Enbridge, like the other pipeline companies, have stoutly maintained that, because of federal preemption, the only power local governments have over their pipeline expansion plans are to fiddle with emergency responder issues, which is after the bad things have already happened.

When Enbridge first made known its plans over a year ago to add pumping stations to triple the capacity of existing Line 61, its tar sands pipeline through Wisconsin from Superior to Delavan, all that they expected by way of local interaction was fine tuning of emergency responder training.

In Dane County, however, active and determined intervention by 350-Madison volunteers dealt Enbridge a major setback.  When we found out that Dane County Zoning Administrator had given Enbridge a permit in June of 2014, we met with him to explain that the exemption from local zoning that Enbridge claimed only applied to natural gas pipelines, not liquid oil pipelines like this one.  Instead, we pointed out, the pipeline corridor went through ag lands, which is a non-conforming use that required a conditional use permit.  Convinced by our argument, the Zoning Administrator pulled the permit less than a week before bulldozers were slated to come in to install a new pump station near Marshall in NE Dane.

That led to a 10 month battle by 350’s dedicated volunteer corps to convince the 5-person zoning committee to impose strong requirements for insurance as a condition on the zoning permit in order to make sure that there are funds cover the cleanup costs for a spill — which the 2010 Kalamazoo disasters shows can exceed $1 billion.

And we won … about 100 volunteers all by ourselves beat a $40 billion international corporation, and convinced every one of the zoning committee members to impose strict insurance requirements as a condition

Two key takeaways for climate activists in other counties in Wisconsin and in other states:

1.  The company claimed that insurance was unnecessary because they’re an economically strong corporation who did pay the cost to clean up the Kalamazoo (actually only partly true).  Our side replied that that was irrelevant, even if it were true because those pipelines will be around for more than 50 years, by which time climate change would cripple the financial underpinnings  of the fossil fuel industry.  As that erosion occurred over time, however, the Constitution would prevent zoning officials from later strengthening those zoning conditions to match Enbridge’s future compromised state. That’s why, we argued and the County agreed, the conditions imposed today need to address the likely future when fossil fuel companies would be failing and their maintenance practices compromised.

2.  The company also claimed that its standard general liability coverage provided all the protection required.  We researched the insurance market and blew that claim apart. It turns out that those policies have explicit exclusions for pollution clean ups with only partial exceptions — a confusing mush-mash that compelled a requirement that the company get dedicated environmental impairment liability coverage, which is specifically addressed to always pay for clean ups.

In this first outing, we did not get everything we might, in an ideal world, like to have also gained, but we made a major start, and intend to work constructively in the months and years ahead to continue making necessary improvements so that they are not exposed to the very high risks of pipeline oil spill.s

350-Madison is very anxious to help other counties in Wisconsin along the Enbridge corridor join the call for meaningful insurance coverage, and encourage them to contact us.  Indeed, many other counties in the state, such as where the pipeline crosses the St. Croix, face much worse risks than Dane. The same with regard to counties in other states who we would like to help as well.

To read why the Enbridge tar sands pipelines through the Midwest are the Other KXL, read here