Environmental group continues challenge of Dane County pipeline pumping station | Meeting tonight in Madison

The Wisconsin Gazette

Partnering with local landowners, climate change organization 350 Madison continues to oppose Enbridge Corporation’s plans to ship more tar sands oil in pipelines through Dane County.

On Dec. 2, the group filed a brief with the Dane County Board opposing the company’s latest demand that the county remove all references to the need to buy cleanup insurance in case of an oil spill from zoning permits.

The board will hear 350 Madison’s objections to the appeal taken by Enbridge at its 7 p.m. meeting on Dec. 3 in room 201 of the City-County Building in Madison.

Enbridge, according to a statement from 350 Madison, plans to triple its originally approved Pipeline 61 volume of 400,000 barrels per day to more than 1.2 million barrels per day — nearly 50 percent more than the Keystone XL pipeline was to transport.

Enbridge sought and quickly received approval to upgrade pipeline pumping capacity in all other Wisconsin counties through which Line 61 runs on its path from Superior to the Illinois border, but Dane County landowners and environmentalists halted progress here last year, when Enbridge was held to compliance with county zoning restrictions for prime agricultural land.

In April, following several packed preliminary hearings, the Dane County Zoning and Land Regulation Committee voted to support 350 Madison’s proposal that Enbridge should be required to carry extra insurance to help cover cleanup costs in event of a spill.

In May, Enbridge appealed the committee’s decision requiring $25 million in clean up insurance as a permitting condition, but before the matter could be taken up by the full county board, GOP legislators added a rider to the budget bill in containing a provision barring counties from requiring insurance from pipeline companies.

Meanwhile, in late July, zoning committee administrator Roger Lane removed the insurance requirement and issued Enbridge the pumping expansion permit, according to 350 Madison.

However, according to the brief filed by the environmental group on behalf of two Medina residents whose property abuts the Dane County pumping station, “…By ordinance, only the Zoning Committee can issue, or modify, a conditional use permit by a majority vote of its members, among whom the Administrator does not number, and … only after consultation with the town, notice and public hearing.”  

The environmental group believes the permit issued by Lane has no legal effect and the zoning committee’s original requirement for Enbridge to maintain clean up insurance remains on the books, even though the county can no longer enforce the provision due to the budget rider.

“It is not enough that Enbridge can go ahead and build its pump station in Dane County. Now, their appeal to the County Board to strike language from the Conditional Use Permit for environmental cleanup insurance is insulting taxpaying citizens of Dane County and members of the Zoning and Land Regulation Committee who exercised their duty to constituents,” Mary Beth Elliott, Tar Sands Team Leader for 350 Madison, stated in the news release.

She continued, “Zoning committee members worked extensively to grapple with the potential horrific effects of a tar sands spill here from a pipeline to flow at an unprecedented 1.2 million barrels daily. They knew what they were doing in requiring environmental insurance, based on the testimony of an internationally recognized insurance expert. The environmental insurance requirement needs to remain on the permit, not be struck because a foreign pipeline giant can afford high paid lobbyists to influence legislation.”

Enbridge, according to 350 Madison, had a staff of four lobbyists in Madison during the run up to the budget bill, but the company claims its lobbyists never met with lawmakers.

Enbridge is responsible for more than 800 spills since 1999. In Wisconsin, pipeline ruptures in 2007 spilled about 29,000 gallons of crude oil onto a farm in Clark County and about 176,000 gallons of oil onto a farm in Rusk County. In 2009, a rupture spilled about 1,200 barrels of oil on a farm in Grand Marsh.

The worst Enbridge spill was the 2010 spill in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. About 843,000 gallons of tar sands oil flowed into a creek and then the river, making the Kalamazoo disaster the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history.

The spill revealed the destructiveness of tar sands oil. Tar sands ore, mined from deforested land in Canada, must be mixed with chemicals to move through a pipeline. This makes the crude more acidic and leads to more ruptures and spills, according to the Sierra Club.

In Michigan, when the tar sands crude spilled and was exposed to air, toxic gases forced the evacuation of more than 300 homes and a thick, heavy tar gunk sank to the river bottom.

The cleanup on the Kalamazoo, which environmentalists and the EPA say still is incomplete, has cost more than $1.2 billion — an amount well over the cap on Enbridge’s liability insurance.

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