On Thursday, July 3 on the eve of a long Fourth of July holiday weekend, Canadian pipeline company giant Enbridge landed a sweetheart deal: a provision in the 2015 Wisconsin Budget that will serve to expedite permitting for its controversial proposed Line 61 tar sands pipeline expansion project.
Line 61 cuts diagonally across Wisconsin and goes into north-central Illinois, beginning in Superior, Wisconsin and terminating in Flanagan, Illinois. The Wisconsin Gazette refers to the pipeline as the “XXL” pipeline because it is bigger in size and has higher carrying capacity than the more well known tar sands pipeline cousin, TransCanada‘s Keystone XL, and is “buried beneath every major waterway” in the state.
Further, Line 61 is a key piece of what DeSmog has coined Enbridge’s “Keystone XL Clone” pipeline system, connecting at the north to the proposed Alberta Clipper pipeline expansion project and to the south to the already-functional Flanagan South pipeline. Flanagan South then connects to the Seaway Twin pipeline, which flows to the Gulf coast refineries and the global export market, like the southern leg of Keystone XL.
Dane County Insurance
At the center of the story is Dane County, home to the capitol city of Madison and the University of Wisconsin, situated as the “last man standing” in the way of Enbridge opening Line 61 for business.
The Dane County Board of Supervisors told Enbridge on April 14 it cannot pump higher amounts of tar sands product through Dane County until it buys insurance in case of a spill. Put another way, the local government body told Enbridge it refuses to foot the bill for spills, notable given the company’s track record of responsibility for the biggest tar sands pipeline spill in U.S. history.
Image Credit: Wisconsin State Assembly
Enbridge appealed the Board of Supervisors’ decision on May 4. It remains unclear whether that appeal will become a moot point if the Enbridge provision remains part of Wisconsin’s budget, set to be debated soon by both chambers of the state legislature.
Beyond Enbridge, other pipeline companies and utility industry interests also landed a last-minute proposed budget provision that would give Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission the right to condemn private property for infrastructure projects if deemed in the “public interest” upon review, akin to eminent domain.
Image Credit: Wisconsin State Assembly
The company recently filed a high-profile eminent domain lawsuit in North Dakota against the last set of landowners who refused to sign off on an Enbridge right-of-way contract for its Sandpiper pipeline, set to bring oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale basin to Superior, Wisconsin.
According to the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, Enbridge began lobbying for “development, drafting or introduction of a proposal relating to pipelines” beginning on February 12, 2015, just two weeks after the Board of Supervisors’ Zoning and Land Regulation Committee stalled making a decision on Line 61. Enbridge also began lobbying for the eminent domain provision on June 10.
One of the lobbyists, Dan Gunderson, has also worked on projects for ExxonMobil, American Petroleum Institute (API) and other oil and gas industry clients in the past, according to his consulting company’s website.
“The API has utilized Big Wild both for lobbying the legislature and issue messaging around the State of Wisconsin,” reads a testimonial from API on the website for Gunderson’s consulting company. “We have been extremely pleased with their accomplishments on behalf of our industry.”
The other three Enbridge lobbyists have all passed through the government-industry revolving door.
Kevin Jenkins, an in-house Enbridge lobbyist, formerly served as chief-of-staff for Wisconsin Senator Frank Lasse and on the Wisconsin County Leadership Committee for the 2004 Bush-Cheney presidential campaign. The other two — Tony Langenohl and William “Bill” McCoshen — both formerly served as senior-level staffers for former Wisconsin Republican Governor Tommy Thompson, who is now also a corporate lobbyist.
“Billion Dollar Bailout”
Critics have sounded off against the 11th-hour Enbridge budget insertion.
“This is putting taxpayers on the hook for a billion dollar bailout,” Peter Anderson of 350.org’s Madison chapter said in a press release.
“Given the likelihood of a spill from Enbridge’s tar sands pipelines, Dane County has currently required environmental insurance in order to guarantee they won’t be liable to pay for those clean-up costs. By removing this ability, no other county will be able to protect itself in this manner and taxpayers will be responsible for these clean-up costs.”
The proposal, of course, is not yet final, and precedent already exists for removal of another controversial provision inserted into the budget pertaining to Wisconsin’s Public Records Law, which met strong backlash.