Chris Rickert is the metro columnist for the Wisconsin State Journal, where he's got his laser-like perspective trained (mostly) on all things Madison.

Enbridge insurance requirement

Enbridge Energy electrical technician Scott Welter walks between pipelines outside the company's pumping station in the town of Medina. The company applied for a permit to build a second pumping station there to as part of a plan to triple capacity of its Line 61, which carries tar sands crude through Wisconsin.

PHOTO BY JOHN HART/STATE JOURNAL

A Canadian company looking to build a new Dane County oil pumping station believes a County Board decision to leave in place a state-invalidated spill insurance requirement “creates confusion, regulatory uncertainty and unpredictability.”

Keep in mind this is a company in the oil business — one of the most confusing, least certain and least predictable businesses there is.

The board voted Dec. 3 to keep the $25 million requirement in Enbridge Energy’s conditional use permit after Legislative Republicans essentially invalidated it with a last-minute amendment to the 2015-17 state budget in July.

Yes, the board’s was a futile gesture, but one that shows a midsized Midwestern county can still have a little spunk — an asset in a day when some companies have budgets and resources many times that of local governments.

County Board chairwoman Sharon Corrigan has said the requirement was left in place should the state ever reverse its decision — which seems unlikely anytime soon given large Republican majorities in the Legislature and a 2011 redistricting map drawn to maintain those majorities.

That’s not certainty enough for Enbridge, though.

When I asked company spokeswoman Jennifer Smith why, she noted that Enbridge is spending $45 million to improve the pumping station. (In 2014, Enbridge had revenue of more than $27 billion.)

Smith has previously said the company is considering its options in the wake of the board’s vote. She and other company officials didn’t respond when I asked whether one of those options is litigation.

Still a mystery is how the Enbridge-friendly end-run around the county’s permitting authority got into state law in the first place, as Enbridge has officially denied responsibility.

The insurance-negating provision was one of two provisions that benefited Enbridge that lawmakers inserted into the budget in the waning days of the budget process.

After looking at the drafting files for the other provision, which had to do with pipeline companies’ condemnation authority, county Sup. Patrick Miles, chairman of the county’s zoning committee, has a theory.

The documents show “Enbridge surrogates were closely involved in drafting policy changes inappropriately put into a budget bill at the eleventh hour,” and “I wouldn’t be surprised if ... (local Enbridge attorney Tom) Pyper provided the brief, but consequential, insurance provision.”

Rep. John Nygren and Sen. Alberta Darling, who chair the state’s budget committee, did not respond to requests for comment. Pyper and Enbridge lobbyist Bill McCoshen did not respond to questions about how the provision made its way into the state budget.

Speaking of unpredictability, have you noticed gas prices lately, or the North Dakota oil bust, or that the once oil-poor United States is now allowed to export domestically produced oil?

Compared to all that, one invalidated, comparatively piddly insurance requirement comes close to a sure thing.

Contact Chris Rickert at 608-252-6198 or crickert@madison.com, as well as on Facebook and Twitter (@ChrisRickertWSJ). His column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

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