The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s June 27 4–1 ruling in Enbridge’s favor marked the culmination of a long battle. At issue was Dane County’s requirement that Enbridge purchase insurance as a condition of approving the pumping station needed for a major expansion of Line 61 (full background here).
The fight began in 2014 when 350 Madison, the Sierra Club, and local groups in Jefferson and other counties discovered that Enbridge was going to triple the amount of tar sands oil moving through Line 61. When we learned that the company was going to build infrastructure in Dane County to facilitate the expansion, we knew we had to act.
Peter Anderson discovered that even though Dane County couldn’t deny the permit, it could protect citizens from having to pay for a spill by requiring insurance. From there, the battle ensued. We put up such a powerful fight that Enbridge had to work behind the scenes to get the legislature to pass a tailor-made amendment designed to nullify the insurance requirement, and then when Dane County didn’t back down, get their friends at the Supreme Court to take up the case.
With two liberal justices’ withdrawing from the case and with the already conservative makeup of the court, we knew things weren’t going to go our way. The current Supreme Court rarely votes against business interests and even more rarely against those who make big contributions to the election of conservative justices. On Thursday, June 27, the Supreme Court held that Dane County wasn’t allowed to require insurance.
It’s a disappointing loss—but victory was already ours. What started as a relatively small matter (Dane County simply asking Enbridge to purchase a little extra insurance in order to expand its pipeline) became a huge story and stopped Enbridge from getting the Line 61 expansion done as swiftly and quietly as possible.
Every step of the way, Enbridge tried to undermine and work around us, and every step of the way (except this last one), we stopped them. First, Enbridge tried to claim Dane County wasn’t even allowed to consider permits for the pumping station. Experts from the Pipeline Safety Trust called and exposed that claim as a lie. As the approval process got under way, we showed up in droves at Dane County Zoning Committee hearings and called on county supervisors to stand up for us—and they did. Enbridge threatened to sue Dane County if they moved forward, and we supported landowners near the pumping station in suing first.
Our efforts cost Enbridge time, money, and the ability to move more toxic tar sands oil through our state. But the impact has gone far beyond this. In Wisconsin, the fight has laid the foundation for a statewide network of concerned community and county board members who are paying attention and are ready to fight next time. Additionally, our precedent-setting insurance requirement has been taken up by pipeline fighters in Minnesota (in opposition to Enbridge’s Line 3) and in other states in the region.
This victory wouldn’t have happened without the hundreds of supporters who showed up at hearings and wrote to their county board members, the dozens who called local officials and donated to our fight, and a handful of people who worked tirelessly for the cause: the seven landowners brave enough to put their names on the lawsuit; attorneys PK Hammel and Tom Burney, who donated their time to take this complicated case all the way to the Supreme Court; Supervisor Patrick Miles and the rest of the Zoning Committee, who stood with the people of Dane County despite the pressure, threats, and lies from Enbridge, the legislature, and other outside influences trying to protect the tar sands industry; Beth Elliott and Ronnie Monroe, who spent countless hours doing research and making the case that these pipelines are dangerous and need to have safeguards in place; Phyllis Hasbrouck, Elizabeth Ward, Carl Whiting, Cathy Loeb, and Anne Reynolds, who educated and inspired the public and got us all out to fill hearing after hearing and courtroom after courtroom; and last but not least, Peter Anderson, who came up with the strategy and convinced us it was workable despite its wonkiness, empowering all of us and the county board to take action—researching arcane laws, following the process minute detail by minute detail, walking the media through the confusing process—and keeping us going throughout with his contagious passion.
All of this is just setting the stage for the next battle against Enbridge. With this under our belt, what could stop us?