MINNEAPOLIS (AP) —A member of Gov. Tim Walz’s cabinet faced sharp questioning at a confirmation hearing Friday for approving an appeal over a controversial pipeline project in a dispute that could cost him his job.

Commerce Commissioner Steve Kelley is under fire because he’s appealing a decision by the independent Public Utilities Commission to approve Enbridge Energy’s plan to replace its aging Line 3 crude oil pipeline across northern Minnesota.

The plan is popular among Republicans who control the Senate, while Democrats are split.

Kelley defended this week’s decision to appeal, saying that as commissioner he’s obligated to ensure that state statues are followed. He reiterated that the department does not believe Enbridge met the statutory requirement for a long-range oil demand forecast.

The PUC concluded when it approved this project for the second time in two years that Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge met all the legal requirements. Members of the Republican majority on the two committees holding Friday’s hearing argued that the PUC got it right and that the project should proceed.

The commerce committee chairman, Sen. Gary Dahms, of Redwood Falls, noted that the senators couldn’t vote Friday because the Legislature isn’t in session. But he predicted that they would have voted to forward his nomination without a recommendation. That’s usually a bad sign for appointees.

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