Wisconsin’s Republican leadership has enacted a measure that would allow the accident-prone Canadian energy company Enbridge to bury oil pipelines on property anywhere in the state it desires. The property owner’s approval is not required.
The measure was among 67 proposals in the Joint Finance Committee’s wrap-up motion (known as the 999 motion) to the 2015–17 biennial budget approval process. Many of the proposals were both controversial and unrelated to the budget, reflecting a strategy used by both parties for circumventing public attention and debate on hot-button issues.
The 999 proposals were harshest on environmental issues, according to Wisconsin conservation groups. The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters described the budget as a whole as “a grab bag of anti-conservation policy.”
Among the worst of the new environmental laws, conservationists say, are those that were designed to benefit Enbridge, the world’s largest transporter of tar sands oil. The company has close ties with Wisconsin Republicans.
The impetus for the new laws is to expedite Enbridge’s plan to expand the volume on Line 61, which crosses the state diagonally from Superior to Flanagan, Illinois, with a pipeline conveying a half-million barrels of tar sands crude a day. Enbridge wants to triple that volume, which would make Line 61 it the highest-volume pipeline in the nation — one-third larger than the Keystone XL.
Line 61 passes through every major waterway in the state, and Enbridge has the Western Hemisphere’s worst record for oil spills — a combination of factors that alarms environmentalists.
According to the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, Enbridge is guilty of more than 100 environmental violations in 14 Wisconsin counties. In 2010, the break of an Enbridge line in Michigan spewed oil for more than 17 hours before Enbridge realized it was leaking. It was the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history, with a clean-up price tag of $1.2 billion. EPA officials struggled three years to get Enbridge to clean up the impacted area, and environmentalists say the work is still incomplete.
Enbridge’s plan to expand Line 61 had been held up by Dane County, where officials demanded that the company carry $25 million in pollution insurance before they would approve a new pumping station in the county’s northeastern corner.
But with a proposal included in the 999 motion, Republican leaders enabled Enbridge to circumvent the requirement with a new law that bans local jurisdictions from requiring insurance on an operator of a hazardous liquid pipeline as long as the company carries comprehensive insurance coverage, according to Elizabeth Ward, conservation programs coordinator for the Sierra Club’s John Muir chapter.
Given the cost of clean-ups, the frequency of Enbridge accidents and the company’s history of reluctance to clean up after itself, Dane County officials fear the company’s current insurance coverage is inadequate.
Another item folded secretly into the 999 motion expands the state’s eminent domain law so that it virtually would allow Enbridge to seize property from any individual and use it for placing a pipeline. Although the Public Service Commission must deem such an action necessary for the public interest, environmentalists say obtaining its permission would be merely a formality in most cases, given that Walker, who appoints its commissioners, controls the PSC.
Wisconsin Public Radio’s Danielle Kaeding reported that legislative drafting files show Enbridge had direct involvement in changing the wording of the eminent domain law to include itself.
“A staffer with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’ office requested Enbridge Energy attorneys speak with drafters on a language change affecting who has power to take private property for public use,” WPR reported.
Enbridge has shown its willingness to exercise eminent domain rights in other states. It recently filed a lawsuit in North Dakota against holdout landowners who refused to give the company permission to use their properties for a pipeline that will convey tar sands oil, the most hazardous of all petroleum products to transport, from North Dakota to Superior, Wisconsin.
Enbridge also has eminent domain rights in Michigan, where in 2012 the company took 70 homeowners in Ingham and Livingston counties to court to force them to relinquish their property for the installation of a new pipeline. The new pipeline replaced the one that ruptured in 2010 and dumped 800,000 gallons of crude oil into a Kalamazoo River tributary near Marshall.
On July 8, the same day the Legislature approved the final budget, demonstrators congregated outside Gov. Walker’s office in Madison to protest what 350-Madison called “a Republican scheme to pay off the Enbridge pipeline company in the state budget bill.”
Protesters floated a balloon shaped like an octopus next to the Walker’s East Wing office. The octopus dropped thousands of dollars in monopoly money “to represent the campaign contributions it expects the governor and Republican legislators to receive for doing the company’s bidding,” according to a press release.
“Since the politicians are so intent on getting campaign contributions, regardless of the harm it does to the state’s taxpayers and landowners along the line, we thought we’d help speed up getting the pipeline company’s contributions to the governor,” said landowner Ronni Monroe from Jefferson County, where the company’s new Dane County pumping station will now be built.
“Enbridge is a $42 billion Canadian pipeline company that exploits loopholes to avoid paying federal and state income taxes. It hired four high paid lobbyists to push through what is likely to turn into a $1 billion taxpayer bailout for itself at Wisconsin’s expense as part of the 2015 state budget,” said Carl Whiting with 350-Madison.
Read the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters’ analysis of the budget’s conservation impacts.