Dane County leaders say they may consider ways to work around a law that was slipped into the state budget blocking a local requirement that the Enbridge Energy pipeline company purchase oil spill insurance.
The Madison chapter of the environmental group 350.org has asked the county zoning committee to require Enbridge to establish a $25 million trust fund that would cover cleanup costs in the event of a spill.
The state budget provision forbids insurance requirements but makes no mention of trust funds, said Peter Anderson of 350.org.
A cleanup fund would be held by an independent third party and the money would be released, if needed, to pay for any costs not covered by other sources, Anderson said.
County Board member Mary Kolar, who acted as chairwoman of the zoning committee last week when Anderson made the request, said she asked county staff to gather information on the proposal and other options in light of the provision added at the last minute to the state budget Gov. Scott Walker signed July 12.
“I would like to be able to ensure that should there be a spill like there was in Michigan that we are prepared for the cleanup and to pay for the cleanup,” Kolar said.
County officials have worried about a Wisconsin repeat of the 2010 Enbridge spill in Michigan that fouled miles of the Kalamazoo River and has taken more than four years and $1.2 billion to clean up as the company fought in court with one of its insurers.
Zoning panel chairman Patrick Miles wasn’t at last week’s meeting and wasn’t available for comment, but he has expressed frustration with the state budget provision, and another inserted at the same time to help Enbridge force landowners to sell property rights when it expands its lines.
“In an act of political cowardice, the provisions were amended to the state budget with no legislator’s name and no opportunity for public notice or debate,” Miles said in an opinion column published in the State Journal on July 21.
“Understandably, area residents are concerned for their health, their property and the well-being of the wetlands and water resources,” Miles wrote. “A rupture at that flow rate for one hour would spill 2.1 million gallons, far dwarfing the Marshall, Mich., spill.”
Enbridge Energy president Mark Maki responded with his own opinion piece in the Aug. 2 State Journal denying that company lobbyists in Madison had anything to do with nullifying the insurance requirement the zoning board included in a permit the company needs to expand a pump station.
And, Maki said, the condemnation provision merely clarified authority the company already had by updating statutory language to reflect present business practices.
“The claim that Enbridge made a ‘legislative end run’ around Dane County’s permitting process is untrue,” Maki wrote. “Our goal is zero incidents, and across Enbridge we have invested billions to safeguard the integrity of our facilities.
“In the event of a release, we are committed to doing what’s right: We’ll respond. We’ll clean up. We’ll bear all the costs.”
Asked for comment about the 350.org proposal, Enbridge spokeswoman Jennifer Smith repeated Maki’s vow, word for word, and said construction on the new pump station in Dane County is expected to begin in 60 to 90 days.
Months of debate
The county zoning board wrestled for months with Enbridge’s permit request before approving the insurance requirement on April 14.
The Canadian company is adding horsepower to its pump station in the town of Medina, part of a plan to triple the flow of tar sands crude through underground lines that run the length of the state. The line would carry more of the heavy crude than was proposed for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
Enbridge maintains that it carries adequate insurance, and points out that it paid the cleanup bills in Michigan while attempting to settle with the insurer.
But the county hired an insurance consultant who said the type of insurance Enbridge has is vulnerable to disputes that can tie up funds for years, and there is no guarantee that in the future the company will have sufficient cash to properly remedy a spill.
Enbridge appealed the insurance requirement to the full County Board, but before a decision could be made, an anonymous state legislator added the provision to the state spending plan just before it passed through the Legislature’s budget committee.
State Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, in February expressed frustration with the zoning board for holding up the pipeline project. Tiffany, a member of the Legislature’s budget committee, and Rep. Joel Kleefisch, an Oconomowoc Republican whose district includes the pump station, didn’t respond to requests for comment on the 350.org proposal.
Tiffany and Kleefisch have also declined to respond to reporters’ questions about whether they introduced the budget provision.
The county’s consultant, David Dybdahl Jr., a Middleton broker and expert on environmental insurance, said Enbridge’s costs would be minimal to supply $25 million in additional insurance coverage in Dane County.
Anderson, of 350.org, said he saw irony in the fact that a trust fund would mean a much greater outlay — $25 million would be tied up — because of the budget provision.
Noting that Republicans who control the Legislature have been toying for months with a plan to strip Dane County of its zoning authority, Anderson said county officials will need to decide if they are willing to take a risk by requiring Enbridge to establish a cleanup fund.
“The Legislature is going to be vindictive, but I don’t think acting sheepish is the answer,” Anderson said. “With a backyard bully, which is the way the worst of the tea party legislators have acted, the answer is not to be supine but to stand up to the bully.”