Local Leaders Flex Some (Zoning) Muscle to Keep Tar Sands Oil Out of Wisconsin Pipeline

Call it David versus Goliath. Call it whatever you like. But what’s happening in Wisconsin’s Dane County, Prince Georges County, and in the small townships of Michigan is a clear example of how local governments are increasingly flexing their power to protect their communities and their natural resources. 

Pipeline giant Enbridge, Inc. is part of an industry-wide push to repurpose and build thousands of miles of pipelines. While Enbridge wants to triple the volume of oil it pumps through Dane County (the state’s second most populous county and the home of University of Wisconsin-Madison), county zoning officials are seeking a $25 million insurance safety net, based on lessons learned from 2010’s catastrophic spill into the Kalamazoo River near Marshall, Michigan. Enbridge officials are accusing the county of stepping outside its jurisdiction in trying to regulate safety operations, and have suggested that they may take the matter to court if the insurance requirement is not repealed. But Wisconsin officials maintain that wetlands, farms, and open space would be endangered by a pipeline rupture, and would adversely affect more than a half a million residents.

This example of resolute and empowered local leadership is welcome news, and an inspiration for other local government leaders across the nation on the Path to Positive

Resistance to Pipeline Bigger than Keystone Thwarts Enbridge in Wisconsin

By David HasemyerInsideClimate News | May 12, 2015

Pipeline giant Enbridge, Inc., is in a standoff with a Wisconsin zoning committee over the company’s plans to vastly increase the amount of tar sands oil pumped through one of its lines.

In an unusual move, the Dane County Zoning and Land Regulation Committee slapped additional insurance requirements on Enbridge before letting it build a new high-capacity pump station along its Line 61.

Boosting pumping power is critical to Enbridge’s plan to triple the capacity of the six-year-old pipeline that runs from northern Wisconsin to refineries near Chicago. Adding the insurance is one of few precautions the county can take to prepare for a potential spill on the expanded line.

At its new capacity Line 61 would carry 1.2 million barrels of heavy crude oil from Canada’s tar sands region a day—more oil than the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which has inspired fierce public opposition and debate for seven years.

Enbridge officials say there’s no need for additional insurance––and that the county committee overstepped its bounds and crossed into the jurisdiction of federal pipeline regulators by trying to regulate safety operations. The company has asked the county’s 37-member board of supervisors to overturn the zoning board’s requirement. A June 4 hearing has been set.

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