We just received word that the Michigan Cats protestors have been convicted on all counts. We are angered and saddened by the news. More coming soon.
We’ve been caught up with some matters not directly related to Enbridge (though not completely unrelated either!). Some companion legislation to a bill giving tax breaks for oil and gas development proposes to eliminate some protections for property owners subject to condemnation when a pipeline company comes a-calling. That should sound familiar to folks along the Line 6B route. We know first hand how the kind of disregard a pipeline company can have for landowners. At the very least, if our state is going to encourage the building of more pipelines–and we’re not convinced at all that that’s a good idea– protections for property owners should be considerably stronger, not weaker. So if you haven’t already, please take a moment to contact your House representative and register your objection to HB 5254.
But that’s not the point of this post. We’ve been so focused on this matter, we’ve failed to update you on another one: the MI CATS protestors– the ones who attached themselves to Enbridge equipment at a work site last summer are currently on trial in Ingham County. To catch up on the deliberations the past few days, you can read news articles here and here and here and, in even more detail, at the MI CATS web page.
We hope you will show them a bit of support. The form of protest they engaged has its risks, to be sure– and they know that. But the felony charges they’re facing are, in our view, totally disproportionate and appear to be the result of a pointlessly aggressive prosecutor trying to be a hardass and a judge who, for reasons that aren’t at all clear, is oddly petulant and self-indulgently blustery. We fail to see how the harsh prosecution of these three individuals–Barb Carter, Lisa Leggio and Vicci Hamlin– in any way protects the public or serves the public interest– especially when the state (in the form of the Governor, the legislature, and the MPSC) has failed so miserably to protect the public and landowners from Enbridge’s misbehavior and its attempts to skirt regulations, flout local ordinances, violate its permits, and abuse its easement rights (go ahead, check our archives). Is there anybody who seriously thinks, to take one small example, that what these protestors caused more public harm than what Enbridge did to Ore Creek? This prosecution is a vivid example of how wealthy and powerful get to have their way while those without wealth and power who try to call foul take it on the chin. That is not kind of justice.
This is why, although we’re not likely to go chaining ourselves to any construction equipment any time soon, we still support the MI CATS.
As we said yesterday, we learned some things– not all of them very helpful or comforting– by watching the morning’s House Energy and Technology Committee hearing on House Bills 4885, 5254, and 5255. One thing that became very clear is that the legislation is not, as we at first supposed, aimed principally at encouraging fracking (although it certainly doesn’t rule it out). Rather, the bill is primarily driven by Enhanced Oil Recovery, a process of extracting more oil from existing wells by injecting CO2 to help carry it to the surface. Relative to other kinds of oil and gas development, as we understand it, EOR isn’t so bad.
This bit of clarification came, in part, courtesy of the testimony of an executive at Core Energy. Who, you might ask, is Core Energy? Well, according to their website:
Core Energy, LLC is actively involved in innovative oil production technologies and is the only company in Michigan currently performing CO2 Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) operations, which is making Michigan’s economy stronger and more energy independent while sequestering CO2. In addition to CO2 EOR, Core Energy is leading the way for Geologic CO2 Sequestration in Michigan by hosting a public/private partnership to research the storage potential of Michigan’s geology. Geologic CO2 Sequestration is a world changing technique that could help clean the atmosphere by removing CO2 and permanently storing it deep underground.
Now, the fact that we are talking about a bill more or less specifically designed, evidently, to help advance Core Energy’s interests is plenty troubling– but in an unsurprising sort of way. Far more troubling, however, is that the guy from Core Energy seemed to be the only one in the room who knew much about the particular bill in this grouping that has us most upset: HB 5254. That’s the one that would change some language in Act 16 from “landowner” to “owner of agricultural property.”
A few of the Committee members, notably Collene Lamonte and Marylyn Lane asked about this change specifically. The main sponsors of the legislation, Aric Nesbitt and Rick Outman, didn’t have a clue. They were clearly just following orders (which is pretty appalling; is it too naive to expect that sponsors of legislation understand the legislation they are sponsoring?!). The closest anyone came to providing a clear answer came from the guy from Core Energy and the representative of the MPSC.
Their claim is that the change is just a “technical change.” They insist that the original intent of the section of Act 16 in question was only to provide provisions for agriculture. Therefore, changing “landowner” to “owner of agricultural property” is merely to clarify the original intent of the law. We suspect that quasi-explanation satisfied some of the members of the committee. However, there are serious problems with this “explanation”:
First, it may very well be true that the legislators who passed the law in 1929 were thinking mainly of farm land. That certainly seems plausible. But then again, it might not be true. After all, the line with the proposed change is not the only place in that section of Act 16 where the word “landowner” is used. For example, here is the change we’re talking about:
3) Any offer to
a landowneran owner of agricultural property for an easement for the purpose of locating, constructing, maintaining, operating, and transporting crude oil or petroleum pipelines on agricultural property in this state shall include all of the following information:
In fairness, it may well be that the change indicated above does clarify that sentence somewhat. However, in the context of the rest of the section, it’s not all that helpful. For instance, this is what it says just below (3):
(a) The anticipated physical impact of pipeline construction on the landowner’s property.
Does landowner here mean “an owner of agricultural property”? Or what about a little later in the section, where it says this:
(g) That the landowner has rights under the uniform condemnation procedures act, 1980 PA 87, MCL 213.51 to 213.77, and a copy of the act to the landowner.
Does the word landowner here also only mean “owner of agricultural property”? Or is the use of the term this time describing any landowner? The point is this: if the original intent of the law was to apply only to agricultural property owners, why did the original law sometimes use that term and other times use the term “landowner”? Or, if those terms are supposed to be interchangeable, why doesn’t the newly proposed law change the word landowner throughout? Better yet, why doesn’t it just clarify this in the “definitions” at the top of the section and be done with it?
So there are two problems here: first, the intent of the original law is not at all as clear as Nesbitt and others want to convince us it is. Secondly, the attempt to clarify that matter by the drafters of the new bill (whoever they are; clearly it’s not Nesbitt) is also not clear. In fact, it is a really awful attempt at clarification. Maybe that’s why Aric Nesbitt is so willing to make it clear that he did not draft it. We don’t blame him.
But that’s not all. So secondly, even if one wants to accept that the “intent” of this part of the law pertains only to agricultural property, the law as written appears to cover non-agricultural landowners as well. Given that fact– though this is a matter of legal interpretation of the sort that we’ve discussed before— why would lawmakers not simply want to err on the side of more landowners being protected rather than fewer? What do the citizens of Michigan have to gain by limiting the people to whom these very minimal protections apply?
Thirdly, even the clarifying term “agricultural property” isn’t especially clear. What is the definition of agricultural property? For instance, we have a very large garden here and fruit trees. Does that make ours an agricultural property? We also have friends who raise goats and chickens for their own use. Does that property count as agricultural?
Fourthly, once again contrary to what Nesbitt & co. would have us believe, there are very good reasons why the protections in the section of the act in question should apply to all landowners. Here, for example, are some of those protections:
(b) Written assurance that any agricultural drainage tile that is damaged or removed during the construction or repair of a pipeline will be repaired or replaced to preconstruction working condition. As used in this subdivision, “drainage tile” includes any surface or subsurface system by which the movement of water is redirected.
(c) Written assurance that topsoil that is disturbed due to construction or repair of a pipeline is properly separated and replaced. As used in this subdivision, “topsoil” means surface soil that is presumed to be fertile as distinguished from subsoil.
(d) The method by which property will be appraised.
Let’s take these each, briefly, in turn: (a) there are plenty of properties, like ours, that used to be farmland. And many of those properties have drainage tile on them. Why would that drainage tile be exempt from these rules? (b) the mixing of topsoil has been a serious problem on the Line 6B project, even on our very property. Why shouldn’t the separation of topsoil issue apply to everyone’s property? After all, it’s not just crops that need good topsoil; trees do too. And (c) lots of us have concerns about how our property was appraised by Enbridge. Those appraisals were the source of a great deal of contention during compensation negotiations. Why wouldn’t the legislature want all landowners to know how their property is being appraised?
Lastly, the final provision in this part of the Act is as follows:
(g) That the landowner has rights under the uniform condemnation procedures act, 1980 PA 87, MCL 213.51 to 213.77, and a copy of the act to the landowner.
According to the sponsors of the bill, “landowner” here means “an owner of agricultural property” (even though, as we noted above, they’re not changing this language). Why in the world would legislators not want ALL landowners, agricultural or not, to be notified of their rights under the uniform condemnation procedures act? What could possibly be gained by NOT requiring that a copy of that act be given to all landowners?
The bottom line is this: there is absolutely NOTHING to be gained by the public if the changes proposed in HB 5254 are passed. Nothing. The only benefits bestowed by the changes would go to oil and gas companies, who would have to be somewhat less careful with regard to their dealings with non-agricultural landowners. Furthermore, what the Act presently requires is so very minimal that it in no way harms those same oil and gas companies in the slightest. In other words, HB 5254 is completely inessential to this legislation as a whole. The ONLY thing it does is removes protections for landowners. That is its only effect. Why would a single legislator, Republican or Democrat, possibly vote for such a thing?
Wow! This morning, we spent some time watching the House Energy and Technology Committee hearings on the three bills we’ve been squawking about over the past few days. It was both interesting and very disturbing. We learned a lot, some of it clarifying and some of it just plain maddening. As soon as we can, we’ll try and give a full account of the hearings and a better discussion of the questions at stake in the legislation. Needless to say, our concerns have not been alleviated. For now, here’s a quick teaser list of some of what we learned:
- Our original assessment that the legislation is mainly about fracking isn’t exactly correct. As we explained in our follow-up post, it appears to have more to do with “Enhanced Oil Recovery”– which isn’t, however, to remove fracking from the equation entirely.
- The main sponsor of the legislation, Committee Chairman Aric Nesbitt, doesn’t appear to understand the bill very clearly at all. He spent a lot of his time saying things like “what I’m told” and “from what I understand.” Needless to say, that does not provide much comfort.
- Which means that Nesbitt obviously didn’t write the legislation. He’s just doing someone else’s bidding. Whose bidding? We aren’t entirely sure.
- But here’s one possibility: during his testimony, the executive from Core Energy (we didn’t catch his name, but check out what it is they do!) spoke about Act 16 as if he were some kind of expert on it. He seemed to know more about the reason for HB 5254 than anybody else in the room. Yes, that’s right, the one person who has more to gain from this legislation than anybody else on the planet was explaining it to the legislators.
- The MPSC, indifferent to the interests of the citizens it is supposed to protect, is not the least bit bothered by the change proposed in HB 5254. Even worse, the MPSC representative went out of his way to describe the MPSC’s charge in precisely the terms created by Enbridge’s lawyers. So just as we’ve said in the past, Enbridge has successfully re-created the MPSC in its very own image.
- Our own representative, Joseph Graves, did ask a question about landowner rights–but rather half-heartedly, we thought. His colleagues Reps. Marilyn Lane and Collene Lamonte, on the other hand, were tenacious and proved themselves true champions of Michigan citizens. We applaud their efforts.
- Finally, we’ve been a little baffled by the lack of interest in this matter by various environmental groups. The Sierra Club, however, has stepped up and articulated clearly and forcefully their opposition to this legislation.
Much more– including more on why the feeble attempts by those at the hearing attempting to dismiss concerns about HB 5254 were completely unpersuasive– as time allows.
On Friday, we brought you the disturbing news of some new legislation introduced in the Michigan House of Representatives by Rick Outman. HB 5254 makes a very subtle and seemingly small change to Act 16, the Crude Oil and Petroleum Act, removing the word “landowner”and replacing it with “owner of agricultural property” from the section of the bill describing the rights of those whose property will be acquired through eminent domain.
This, in our view, is a proposal that should trouble everyone. Whatever your view of the use of fracking or oil and gas development or state energy policy or climate change, it’s hard to imagine anyone– with the exception, it appears of Rick Outman and his compatriots in Congress– who thinks that pipeline companies should get to do whatever they want, without any rules or restrictions, with your private property. Trust us, when some company comes knocking on your door, backed by the state, to dig up your back yard (and you can’t stop it), you will hope that there are as many rules and regulations in place to make sure they behave and treat you and your property respectfully as possible. Just ask these people. As it stands right now, there are precious few such rules. After this bill, there will be even fewer.
Which is why we believe this is an issue that should create bipartisan coalitions. EVERYONE should be troubled by it, from conservative anti-government champions of private property rights to liberal environmental groups looking to halt or at least slow oil and gas development. We’ll be interested to see if such groups, whether alone or together make any noise about this bill. We certainly plan to and we have already written our state representative Joseph Graves. We’ll be sure to update you on his response.
In the meantime, there’s a bit more to this story that we need to share. As it turns out, this legislation is not solely about fracking, although that is certainly an element of it. It is actually part of a suite of interrelated bills designed to promote gas and oil development (an effort that, according to an MiLive story this morning, has yet to pay off). In fact, the two bills we mentioned on Friday (HB 5254 and 5255) will only take effect with the passage of another bill HB 4885. That bill, sponsored by 16 House Republicans, including Joseph Graves would give tax breaks to oil and gas developers by significantly reducing the severance tax those companies currently have to pay to the state for the oil and gas they extract.
In fact, something else we learned after looking in to this is that CO2 is not just used for fracking. It is also commonly used for oil extraction as part of what is called “Enhanced Oil Recovery.” So this suite of bills is not only promoting fracking, but further oil development as well.
But, again, you don’t have to oppose HB 4885 and the encouragement of more oil and gas exploration– personally, we do oppose it; we think it’s the wrong path for Michigan and poses too many dangers to our precious natural resources–to oppose its companion legislation. Indeed, it’s astonishing to us that the sponsors of the tax break bill aren’t proposing exactly the opposite sort of companion legislation: a bill that would give landowners MORE, not fewer, protections. That would seem to be a way to make the prospect of more development and more pipelines more palatable to those who might otherwise oppose it.
Instead, for reasons we simply can’t fathom our state elected officials– too timid and cowardly even to require energy companies simply to behave themselves on the properties of those constituents the official have been elected to serve– seem to want even more Michigan citizens to endure the pain and misery experienced by Line 6B landowners.
Please call or write your state representative and urger her or him to stand up for private property rights, and for the protection of the interests of you and your fellow citizens, not those of the oil and gas industry.
Note (Jan. 28, 2014): the House Committee on Energy and Technology held a hearing on this legislation this morning. Here is a brief overview of what happened. More to come.
In the midst of the property rights nightmare and landowner abuse that has been the Line 6B replacement, evidently the Michigan legislature has decided to make things even worse for Michigan property owners. Just yesterday, Representative Rick Outman introduced legislation that would further erode the already weak rights of property owners in the path of oil and gas pipelines.
Bear with us while we explain:
Remember Michigan Act 16 of 1929? We’ve talked about it a lot here over the past year or more. It’s the law that governs the transportation of crude oil or petroleum through the state of Michigan and grants carriers of those substances the power of eminent domain. It’s the law that our first land agent pulled out of his pocket the first day we met him– and that was before Enbridge had been granted the right of eminent domain by the MPSC. Of course, it didn’t matter, since Enbridge all but owned the MPSC; in fact, the MPSC helped Enbridge to more or less re-write Act 16 of 1929 to suit their own and their industry peers’ interests.
Well, two bills have just been introduced in the Michigan House of Representatives seeking to amend Act 16. The reason for these amendments can be stated in one word: fracking.
Now, we haven’t spent much time discussing fracking here at the Line 6B blog. Generally speaking, we try to keep ourselves focused. Also, unlike some places in the country, like Pennsylvania, where our friends like Emily Krafjack and Lynda Farrell (among others) are working hard to protect landowners and natural resources, fracking– or at least the kind of hydraulic fracking that has become so controversial nationally–hasn’t been a major problem in most parts of Michigan. As we understand it, this has mainly to do with geology.
Which isn’t to say fracking is not something we should be worried about. It is and we very much are. There are plenty of reasons to be wary and vigilant, not the least of which, as some of our very best friends will tell you, is the possibility of oil and gas development in some very beautiful and sensitive recreational areas in our state. Plus, there’s the water– which is where the proposed legislation comes in.
You see, high pressure hydraulic fracking typically requires water– lots and lots of water. And water, of course, is a precious natural resource, not something to be squandered, especially in a state like ours that with a culture so deeply rooted in outdoor sports and recreation. However, there are apparently other fracking methods that don’t need to use all that water. Those methods use, instead, carbon dioxide. CO2 fracking, although it has its downsides– cost being one of them– might well be better for the environment. So– and we are still learning about this ourselves and are therefore not prepared to make any firm pronouncements about it– if there’s going to be more fracking in Michigan, this may be the desirable kind.
Which explains why HB 5255 is seeking to amend Act 16 to include the following language to the section of the Act addressing “condemnation for acquisition of right of ways”:
(B) AFTER RECEIVING APPROVAL UNDER THIS ACT AS REQUIRED FOR CRUDE OIL OR PETROLEUM, TO TRANSPORT BY PIPELINE GASEOUS OR LIQUID SUBSTANCES, CONSISTING PRIMARILY OF CARBON DIOXIDE, THAT WILL BE PUT IN STORAGE OR THAT HAVE BEEN OR WILL BE USED TO PRODUCE HYDROCARBONS IN SECONDARY OR ENHANCED RECOVERY OPERATIONS.
It’s the “gaseous or liquid substances, consisting primarily of carbon dioxide” part that is new. As it is written now, the Act only mentions oil. The reason for this change is obvious: if we’re going to frack with CO2, we’re going to need lots of it and it’s going to need to get moved around. Apparently, this is exactly what our legislators foresee: the need for the transportation of lots of CO2 gas. That gas is probably going to get transported by pipeline– which means building more pipelines. Through people’s property.
So that’s mixed news at best–although there may well be more to the story than we understand yet. It’s (possibly) mixed because CO2 fracking might not be such a bad thing (in relative terms, that is), even though building lots of new infrastructure presents all kinds of potential problems– problems of precisely the kind that those of us on the Enbridge pipeline route have had to endure. But it’s here where the news is not mixed at all, but very, very bad.
You see, there’s a companion bill to HB 5255. It’s HB 5254 and it also seeks to amend Act 16, but a different section. Here’s what HB 5254 would do: it would change the language of the bill so as to redefine who the protections of the act apply to. Specifically, it would remove the word “landowner” and replace it with “owner of agricultural property.” What that means, then, is that the protections included in the bill (and granted, there aren’t a lot of them, though there are some) would ONLY apply to “owners of agricultural property,” not to “landowners.” Non-agricultural property owners– and presumably that means most people, like you and me–would therefore have even FEWER rights than they do now if and when a pipeline gets to run through their property. Oil and gas companies could just have their way on your property– even more so than they do now.
Needless to say, this is outrageous. As I think anyone who has lived through the Line 6B nightmare or anyone who has paid careful attention to it will attest, the state of Michigan needs to STRENGTHEN property rights, not further erode them.
This, we think, is an actionable matter, an urgent matter. Please take the time to write or call your legislators to oppose HB 5254 and its blatant assault on individual property rights in the name of fracking. In the meantime, we’ll learn more about this legislation and, as soon as we can, post a follow-up with more information.
Our follow-up with more information about this legislation has been posted. You can read it here.
According to a report in the Chesterton Tribune out of Indiana, a forensic anthropologist has determined that the skull found by Enbridge contractors is at least 74 years old. That means that the matter is to be turned over to the Indiana DNR’s Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology (which sounds like a pretty awesome division). Construction work appears to still be halted until the DNR can determine whether the area is a burial ground.
It may well be that various kinds of accidents are bound to happen on a pipeline project. But here’s something probably nobody expected: according to reports, Enbridge construction crews have discovered a human skull in Porter County in Indiana. The area has now been declared a crime scene. It’s not clear whether or for how long the discovery of this grisly memento mori might delay construction.
We wish we could start this little news roundup by telling you that Enbridge spokesperson Graham White has issued a public apology to Emily Ferguson for his apparently fictional account of her behavior at an informational meeting regarding Line 9. Unfortunately, we have yet to hear whether White has decided to abide by Enbridge corporate value of “Maintain[ing] truth in all interactions” (although it may be that “maintaining” truth is somehow different than just telling it).
But there’s other news to pass on. Inside Climate News has run its own story regarding the fallen pipe on Dave Gallagher’s property. Needless to say, reporter Maria Gallucci practices the same sort of quality journalism as her ICN colleagues. We only wish the article were a bit longer, as it raises some important questions that could be further explored, such as the lack of regulations (at either the state or federal levels) about pipeline proximity to dwellings, the shoddy work of the MPSC when approving this project, and, of course, the fact that what has gone on out at the Gallagher property is just an extreme version of the troubles endured by countless landowners along the Line 6B route. The article also, unfortunately, doesn’t shed any light on the question of whether the Smith-Manshum account of immediate on site inspection of the dropped pipe really did occur.
Speaking of construction accidents, news from Griffith, Indiana is that Enbridge crews accidentally busted a water main, draining the entire contents of one of the city’s water towers. Thinking back on some other accidents– the tree they dropped on that power line over the holidays, the sewer line they broke at an intersection in Howell a while back– we’re wondering just how common these sorts of accidents are on large-scale projects like this. It’s no clear whether this is routine or whether Enbridge’s contractors are especially accident prone. But even if they’re not particularly unusual, the messy realities of pipeline construction are clearly a far cry from the smooth, hassle-free portrait of the process that Enbridge painted for landowners and municipalities before it all began.
Finally, on the national scene, the Wall Street Journal this morning is reporting that the vast majority of pipeline leaks are not discovered by operators and all their fancy gadgets and doodads, all those high-tech devices they love to talk about, but by individuals on-site. We’re glad the WSJ has done the story, but they’re pretty late to the party. We’ve been talking about this for a long while, as have some of our very favorite reporters. The splendid Elana Schor, for example, was on it way back in August of last year. (Incidentally, Schor’s been getting a fair amount of television face-time lately (and more). We’re glad her voice is reaching national ears, as it should, but we’re also a little worried she’s moving over toward the dark side. We’ve all seen what the tv does to people…)
Yesterday, we wrote about Graham White’s gratuitous comments about our Canadian friend Emily Ferguson in Jessica McDiarmid’s outstanding Toronto Star series “All Along the Pipeline”. As far as we know, he has yet to write to Emily with the apology he obviously owes her, and it might not be coming very soon, since he’s probably quite busy fielding phone calls about the latest Enbridge oil spill. But while we wait, we thought we’d add just a few more comments on the matter, which while seemingly small, illustrates some much larger problems with the way that Enbridge deals with the public. The contempt that White displays toward Emily Ferguson is not just some isolated incident; it’s an attitude that seems to be endemic to Enbridge.
In this follow-up, we’d just like to highlight a couple of points about this matter. Yesterday, we asked a series of rhetorical questions about White’s remark, asking among other things, whether and how Graham White could possibly have known anything about Emily’s demeanor or behavior at the informational meeting in question, which was held in Conservation Halton back in March of last year. The answer to that question, just to be clear, is that he couldn’t. He doesn’t. For one thing, Graham White wasn’t even at the meeting (at least not according to the official minutes from the meeting, which list the Enbridge representatives in attendance). For another thing, Emily never gave her name to any Enbridge representatives at that meeting. There is no way anybody from Enbridge could possibly know whether she was “abrupt and confrontational” at the meeting because there is no way for anybody from Enbridge to have even known she was there in the first place. Therefore, this can only lead to one conclusion:
Graham White is simply making things up.
Or if he’s not, we’d sure like to hear his explanation of how he knows that Emily was at that meeting acting all abrupt and confrontational-like. Perhaps he’s psychic.
Now, that’s pretty bad. What’s so very bizarre about it, however, is that it’s completely unnecessary. That is, we understand that Graham White has to say something when a reporter asks him a question; that’s his job. But he doesn’t have to make things up. And he certainly doesn’t have to try and portray Emily as some sort of unreasonable rabble-rouser. Frankly, we don’t really want to tell Graham White how to do his job, but this doesn’t seem particularly complicated. It’s not hard to imagine any number of other things he could have said in reply to a reporter’s question about Emily Ferguson. For example:
- He could have just been honest. Like this: “I wasn’t at the meeting in question and therefore I am in no position to comment on what happened there.”
- Or if straightforward honesty isn’t his cup of tea (and it appears not to be), he could have just been evasive. Like this: “It is not Enbridge corporate policy to ask for identification at informational meetings. We provide information freely to all members of the public.”
- Or, even better, he could have given an answer in keeping with Enbridge’s corporate values (“Maintain truth in all interactions,” “Do the right thing; do not take the easy way out,” “Take accountability for our actions, without passing blame to others.”) Like this: “We regret that Ms. Ferguson was asked by one of our representatives for identification. That is not our policy and it should not have happened. We regret our mistake and apologize to Ms. Ferguson.”
That last answer– the high road answer– would have cost Graham White and Enbridge nothing. And it would have made them look good (or at least better than they look right now). It would have made them look like they walk the walk, like they really do adhere to the values they profess guide their conduct. It might even have made Emily Ferguson feel slightly better about the whole unfortunate incident. Perhaps it would have opened the door to a more productive, less combative relationship with citizens who have serious concerns about the Line 9 reversal project.
But Enbridge doesn’t seem to want any of that. They don’t seem to want to be guided by those values. They don’t seem to want to walk the walk. They don’t seem to want to cultivate better relations with ordinary citizens and their critics. They don’t seem to want to be less combative. Of course, this is all ground we have covered before (again and again and again). Enbridge’s failure– or more precisely, its apparent inability– to live up to its own stated values runs deep. It’s almost as if those values aren’t there as guides to its employees’ conduct, but as things to be studiously avoided.
According to reports, Enbridge has shut down its Alberta Clipper pipeline in Canada following a spill at one of its pumping stations. Enbridge claims the spill is contained and claims “no impacts to water or people.” We’ll see.
Why should residents of Great Lakes states find this news of particular concern? Beth Wallace explains.
Remember that time Enbridge spokesperson Larry Springer, in a ham-fisted attempt to dismiss legitimate questions about Enbridge’s practices, described landowners and other ordinary citizens expressing perfectly reasonable concerns as “special interest groups”? That remark had us so worked up that we devoted a whole series to it (part 2, part 3, part 4). The reason we spent so much time on it– and the reason we return to it every now and then– is because it is so emblematic of the way that Enbridge views landowners, responds to criticism, and communicates with the public. Dishonest, misleading, and offensive, Springer’s remark also appears to be deeply rooted in Enbridge’s corporate culture, and is part of a strategy (perhaps?) pioneered, but certainly deployed by Enbridge’s former CEO Patrick Daniel.
Well, Larry Springer can finally rest easy. He has at last been outdone. Meet Graham White.
If you’re paying attention to matters up in Canada– Northern Gateway, the Line 9 reversal– you may have encountered Graham White before. He’s one of Enbridge’s chief spokespersons up there (his official title has something to do with business communications and public affairs or something). He gets quoted a lot, much like Jason Manshum here in Michigan. So what is it that Graham White said that surpasses Larry Springer’s now-classically-infamous “special interest groups” comment? Well, let’s take a look:
This week, The Toronto Star ran a fantastic feature called “All Along the Pipeline,” that highlights the Line 9 reversal project and profiles a number of people, as they put it, “whose lives it passes.” It’s a really wonderful piece of journalism by The Star’s Jessica McDiarmid that nicely balances policy and humanity. We wish some reporter in Michigan (about a year ago!) would do the same for Line 6B (yet another opportunity for Jennifer Bowman!). We encourage everyone to read it.
Then a McMaster University student in geography and environmental studies, Ferguson went to several more. In Halton region, she asked Enbridge for an information package that had been provided to council, which included maps of Line 9’s passage through the area.
Ferguson says a company official asked her who she was working for, then agreed to send a copy — if she showed her driver’s license.
And that’s when Graham White enters the story:
Enbridge offers a different version of events: company spokesperson Graham White says “after an abrupt and confrontational approach from Ms. Ferguson,” an employee asked her who she was but did not request identification.
“We provide our information freely, there is no reason someone would have to show ID,” says White, who characterized Ferguson as “a stringent opponent of the project and an activist.”
There is so much that is wrong and deeply disturbing about this that we hardly know where to begin. But let’s start with the obvious:
Does Graham White really have any idea what Emily Ferguson’s demeanor was at an informational meeting that took place nearly a year ago? Has Graham White ever once met or spoken to Emily Ferguson, anywhere? Was he at that informational meeting to witness her conduct himself? Does he possess such a preternatural memory that he is able to recall every person who comes to every meeting that Enbridge holds all across Canada? Or does Enbridge keep some secret list of “abrupt and confrontational” people that they post somewhere on an internal server, a list that spokespersons are required to memorize so that they can instantly, on command, bring to mind the identities and actions of each and every individual on the list? Or would Graham White somehow have us believe that young Emily Ferguson, college student, was just so extremely abrupt, so extraordinarily confrontational that this incident became a permanent part of Enbridge Line 9 reversal project lore, inscribed indelibly into everyone’s memory, like the moon landing? Or could it be that Graham White is just making things up?
Or, let’s just say for the sake of argument (though we don’t believe it for a second) that Emily was “abrupt and confrontational” that day. What, then, would Graham White’s point be? That those who do not conduct themselves at informational meetings with appropriate deference are asked to identify themselves? Who makes that call and what exactly are the rules of propriety at these meetings? Are they explained before hand? Do you just have to be polite or is some particular form of obsequiousness required? Do you have to genuflect or will a simple curtsy do? Are citizens allowed to make direct eye contact with Enbridge representatives or would that be seen as too confrontational?
If those questions seem absurd, as they should, it’s to point out the absurdity of White’s attempt to mischaracterize Emily’s behavior. There is no good reason for Graham White to describe her as “abrupt and confrontational” other than a desire to cast her, needlessly and gratuitously, in a negative light. That’s clearly what he’s doing. It’s a ploy straight out of the Daniel-Springer playbook: if you can portray your critics in an unflattering way– as “special interest groups” or people who are “abrupt and confrontational”– it’s much easier to dismiss them. White does it again when he describes Emily as a “stringent opponent of the project and an activist.” What is the point of that characterization? Why does Graham White go out of his way to describe Emily in this way? Indeed, why does Graham White feel the need to characterize Emily at all? Again, the answer to that is simple: he thinks that calling her an “activist” is automatically to discredit her– in precisely the same way that Larry Springer thinks that calling people “special interest groups” automatically discredits them. It’s a cheap trick, shabby and lazy.
But if what we have here is just another specimen of what we’ve seen from other Enbridge reps, why dwell on Graham White’s snide comments? What makes White’s remarks so much worse than Larry Springer’s? Well, when Springer made his remarks, he was referring (to the extent that he was referring to anyone real, as opposed to the phantoms conjured by his own corporation’s distorted imagination) to a group of people. Springer might even say he was referring generally to everyone who has ever been critical of Enbridge in Michigan since 2010; heaven knows plenty of people have been, some of them even genuine “special interest groups.” So at least Springer has an out– not a very good one, but an out nevertheless.
Graham White, on the other hand? He is talking specifically about one single individual, one ordinary Canadian citizen. And while we are personally mighty impressed with young Emily Ferguson, who seems to us quite formidable, exceedingly smart, talented, enterprising, and with a very bright future ahead of her, it’s not as if she is, say, Neil Young.
By contrast, when Graham White speaks, he is speaking as and for one of the largest, wealthiest, and most powerful corporations in Canada, in all of North America, in fact. Yet despite all of its wealth and power and influence, it is also, evidently, a corporation that is so petty, so thin-skinned, so defensive, so stung by even the mildest of criticisms, so unwilling to take responsibility for even the slightest of missteps, so utterly lacking in grace and humility, so stubborn, so ungenerous, and so mean-spirited that it is willing, on the basis of almost nothing, to publicly disparage a single individual for nothing more than saying what happened when she attended a meeting?
That, friends, is just plain crazy.
[Okay. Believe it or not, we’ve got even more to say about this. But since it’s already gotten a bit longer than we planned, we’ll save it for a follow-up post. Congratulations, Graham White! You’ve earned your very own series!]
We’re playing catch-up today; strangely, 2014 has started out rather eventfully. Earlier today, we made a few remarks about the construction accident and its aftermath that took place on David Gallagher’s property. Among other things, it has yielded a rather troubling he said/she said situation. Needless to say, we have grave doubts about what Enbridge says about the incident.
But there’s been plenty of news otherwise:
Jennifer Bowman over at the Battle Creek Enquirer– who more or less owns the Enbridge Line 6B “replacement” project story these days– wrote an excellent piece on ongoing landowner troubles that appeared over the weekend. Among other things, we were grateful for her recognition that Enbridge’s problems with landowners run far deeper than just the terrible Gallagher situation (which certainly deserves the attention it’s gotten). These are systemic problems, not isolated ones. We even have a few things to say ourselves in the article.
But by far the most, um, interesting comments in Jennifer’s piece come from Jason Manshum. Recently, we’ve had some productive exchanges with Jason and are hopeful that they are a step toward some better communications with Enbridge. We don’t want to jeopardize that. But we still have to tell the truth. And the truth is that Manshum’s comments are so inapt that it’s not really clear just what in the hell he is talking about:
Manshum said the company has been working with landowners since before construction began, going over details and negotiating compensation. Property owners are each assigned a land agent to work with on a regular basis, he said.
“Those conversations begin long before construction,” said Manshum. “They continue during construction and once we go through hydro testing and the final restoration, those conversations will still be ongoing. Because at the end of it, we will go through the list of everything we outlined in the beginning with each landowner and check off the list to ensure that we have actually everything to the homeowner’s satisfaction.”
We understand that journalistic protocol requires Jennifer Bowman, who is a real pro, to solicit some kind of statement from Enbridge, but it has to be as painful for her to type up that sort of thing as it is for us to read it. At this point in the project, after all that has gone on, after all that’s been discussed, demonstrated, and documented with regard to Enbridge’s dealings with landowners is there anybody on the planet who thinks such hollow boilerplate is even remotely helpful or even the slightest bit honest?
In other Line 6B news, remember the protests that took place over the summer? The dude that skateboarded his way into a stretch of pipe? the group that chained themselves to some Enbridge construction equipment? Last week, hearings were held in both cases. The results were mixed. In the case of Chris Wahmhoff, who spent a day inside an Enbridge pipe, a Calhoun County Circuit Court Judge dismissed the charges against him. Wahmhoff celebrated the good news by immediately announcing his candidacy for U.S. Senate. Yes, you heard that right: Wahmhoff is running for the U.S. Senate seat recently vacated by Carl Levin. Jennifer Bowman (who sure keeps busy!) has that story as well. And here’s more from the good folks at the DeSmog Blog. Unfortunately, Wahmhoff’s legal troubles may not be over. Evidently, Calhoun County Prosecutor David Gilbert is seeking to re-issue charges agains Wahmhoff, or so MiLive reports. What Gilbert thinks the citizens of Calhoun County or the state of Michigan could possibly gain from the prosecution of Wahmhoff is completely beyond us.
The news is not quite as good for the other four protestors. An Ingham County Judge has refused to dismiss charges against them. But apparently, simply allowing the prosecution to continue wasn’t enough for Judge William Collette. He also decided to take it upon himself to make some oddly petulant and legally irrelevant remarks. First, according to MiLive, there was this:
“I am tired of people coming in here seeking publicity for themselves,” he said and criticized the defendants and their supporters for organizing court protests. “I don’t like that.”
Then, as if that weren’t weren’t crotchety enough, he added this:
Collette said he is not unsympathetic to an environmental cause or environmental necessity. If someone were charged with trespassing for going out and stopping an oil leak, he would toss out such a charge.
If people think attaching themselves to machinery will change a corporate or government “mode of operation,” it is not going to happen, he said.
Now we’re not really sure why Judge Collette thinks anyone wants to hear his personal opinions about the effectiveness of various forms of protest and agitation for social change. Maybe he’s auditioning for a gig as a talk radio host. Or maybe there is an Ingham County law that we don’t know about prohibiting wrongheaded ideas about what will change corporate modes of operation. But if there is no such statute, then maybe Judge Collette should just keep his non-legal views to himself and focus on administering the law. In the meantime, we hope the protestors’ legal team can find a way to persuade the Court to let this matter drop.
Looking beyond Line 6B, you might also remember the recent letter that Senators Stabenow, Levin, and Dick Durbin of Illinois sent to PHMSA regarding concerns about Enbridge’s proposal to increase capacity on Line 5 running through the Straits of Mackinac. Well, PHMSA has written a letter to the senators in response. The letter reads, in its entirety:
It’s all good. Don’t you worry your pretty little heads about this.
Okay, maybe that’s not really the letter. But it may as well be. If you want to read the thing yourself, it’s here. PHMSA has very little to say other than to try and pacify Stabenow, Levin, and Durbin. Needless to say, it’s cold comfort for anyone who has serious concerns about Line 5 and the protection of the Great Lakes. For more, SURF on over to Beth Wallace’s blog where she discusses the letter in a little more detail, calling it– with devastating accuracy– mostly “jibber jabber.”
Finally, word last week from the EPA is that they are now considering enforcement options against Enbridge for the company’s failure to meet its dredging deadline. You will recall that in a desperate, dishonest attempt to buy more time following its own ham-handed attempts to have its way in Comstock Township, the EPA denied Enbridge’s request for an extension to complete the work. As a result, they’ve missed their Dec. 31st deadline and will likely face fines. Stiff ones? That remains to be seen.
Oh boy. We’ve been trying to begin a new semester, which is always slightly frantic, while all sorts of things are happening on the Enbridge front. This has put us behind the curve somewhat; we’re sorry for that. We’re going to try and do some catching up today; it’s going to take more than one post.
The obvious place to start is with the crazy situation out at Dave Gallagher’s property in Ceresco. As most readers of this blog already know, Dave’s situation is a bit of a nightmare, given the proximity of construction to his home (he’s not the only one who has had to live such a nightmare either: just ask Beth Duman or Marty Burke) and he’s been documenting construction activity pretty carefully.
Which is a good thing considering what happened last week: while lowering a section of pipe into the trench, one of the cranes carrying the pipe tipped over completely. You’ve probably seen one or more of the news reports, as the incident has been covered widely. The dramatic pictures tell the story:
Exactly what caused this accident, we have no idea; we’re certainly not pipeline installation experts. Nor do we know how unusual this sort of accident is, though we suspect it’s pretty unusual. Below, we’ll hazard a theory about what may have contributed to the incident. But first, we’ll at least acknowledge that like any other enterprise, especially a large complicated project like the installation of miles of pipeline, accidents are bound to happen. For that reason, the tipping over of the crane– though obviously very serious– may not actually be the most interesting part of the story. It’s what happened next that makes it all so troublesome.
Mainly that’s because what happened next now appears to be a matter of some dispute. Dave, who was there videotaping the whole thing, says that after righting the crane, construction crews simply continued installation. No one on site inspected the pipe for potential damage.
But in a statement released to the news media, Enbridge spokesman Jason Manshum says otherwise:
“…the pipe was lifted out of the ditch and inspected by the senior lead coating inspector, the assistance chief inspector and a utility inspector for all possible damage. The assessment was that no damage occurred as a result of this situation. Work resumed and the pipe was installed into its final position and backfilled in the area that did not have sheet piling.”
Enbridge spokesperson Jennifer Smith tells the same story. According to Michigan Radio’s Lindsey Smith:
Enbridge Energy disagrees with Gallagher. Enbridge community relations advisor Jennifer Smith says three of their lead inspectors were on hand and did a visual inspection of the pipe. She says further inspection would’ve been completed once the section of pipe was installed.
Now, Lindsey (or Jennifer Smith) is very polite to call this a “disagreement”. But this is not disagreement. It is not just some difference of opinion. It is not merely a matter of interpretation. In fact, it’s very simple: either someone on site inspected that pipe or not. Period. Somebody here is not telling the truth. Dave Gallagher was there watching the situation unfold. Jason Manshum and Jennifer Smith were not there. Moreover, both Manshum and Smith have a history of making misleading comments to the press. On that basis, we can only conclude that Smith and Manshum– directed, of course, by the powers-that-be at Enbridge– were instructed to do some serious backside covering. We wish reporters would press them on this point a little. Dave’s is a first-hand, eyewitness account. Can Smith or Manshum produce any sort of evidence at all that their account is true? If so, we would gladly post it here (Enbridge knows how to reach us).
Because no one on site inspected the pipe– despite Enbridge’s claims to the contrary– Dave had the good sense to contact PHMSA. Surprisingly, PHMSA actually looked into the matter, sending inspectors out to Dave’s property and everything. Bizarrely, Jason Manshum tried to pass this off as “routine,” which it quite plainly is not. At any rate, PHMSA directed Enbridge to replace the section of pipe in question, which they did. But of course, as Dave points out in Keith Matheny’s Free Press article, all of this happened only because Dave was there to see it:
“Who knows how many times this has happened before — how many times the homeowner wasn’t home to see this happen, or it happened out in the woods somewhere out of sight?” he said.
Dave actually raises two important issues here, both of which we’ve discussed at length over the past year and a half. The first, of course, has to do with oversight. It shouldn’t be news to anyone at this point to say that our regulatory system is weak, ineffectual, and terribly broken. In a rational world, landowners wouldn’t have to be the ones watching out for the safety and integrity of pipelines during or after construction.
But the reality is, given this seemingly hopeless regulatory environment, that landowners are the first line of defense when it comes to pipeline safety. And for that reason, like it or not, we are (or ought to be) partners with operators like Enbridge whose pipelines cross our properties. Unfortunately– and this is the second issue that Dave’s remarks tacitly raise–Enbridge seems incapable of fostering such partnerships. Just as they have with so many other landowners, Enbridge has, from day one, botched their relations with Dave Gallagher. As a result, he’s become an outspoken critic, vigilant and vocal.
And that poses a serious problem for Enbridge–not because they won’t ultimately get to do whatever they want more or less how they want. They almost certainly will. No. Dave Gallagher poses a problem for Enbridge because reporters keep coming out to his property and writing stories and doing television reports on what’s happening there. And if we’ve learned anything through all of this, it’s that Enbridge cares far more about its public image than it cares about landowners.
Which brings us to our theory about what may have contributed to this construction incident. Enbridge, we suspect, just wants to get the hell off of Dave Gallagher’s property as quickly as they possibly can. The longer they’re there, the more (bad) publicity they’ll get. So they’re rushing, they’re hurrying. It’s why they’re working through all sorts of nasty weather (while at the same time citing winter conditions for NOT continuing work on our side of the state); it’s why they tried to pound steel pilings into the ground before installing seismic monitoring equipment; it’s why they’re blocking his driveway; it’s why they’re working well after dark; it’s why they didn’t inspect the pipe that fell into the ground; maybe it’s even why the crane tipped over in the first place: because they’re acting hastily, in a rush to get finished. And when you rush things, when you act in haste, you are prone to mistakes.
The result? Yet again, Enbridge’s peculiar way of (mis)handling problems only compounds them.
This week, we’ve been running down the Top Ten Line 6B Citizens’ Blog Posts/Stories of 2013. If you missed it, here is the bottom half of the list and here are the next four. We’ve saved #1 for last, in a feeble and probably not-very-effective attempt to build a little suspense. Once more for the record, here’s what the list looks like so far:
Now, we have to say once more that it was tempting to place “Enbridge Re-Writes Michigan Law” at the top of the list. We still think that’s an important, revealing, deeply disturbing story, one that has garnered far too little interest. Unfortunately, regulatory matters just aren’t terribly interesting to people, even though, in our view, they are tremendously important when it comes to protecting the public interest, the environment, and the rights of ordinary, individual citizens.
On the other hand, the truth is that #1 on our list was obvious from the start. And fittingly, it’s the content on this blog that we did NOT write ourselves. From the very beginning, this blog has always been devoted, first and foremost, to helping and trying to protect landowners– the people most directly affected by Enbridge’s path of destruction. For that reason, the choice for our top story of the year– actually, a series of stories– is a no-brainer:
1. Landowner Stories. Earlier this year, figuring we could stand to shut up for a change, we turned the blog over to our fellow landowners and let them express themselves and describe their Enbridge experiences in their own words. The results, we think, were extraordinarily powerful. What’s more, for every one who has told her or his story here, there are surely 5, 10, or 20 more landowners along the Line 6B route (not to mention along the routes of pipelines all across the U.S. and Canada!) with similar tales. These people are your neighbors and your fellow citizens. They’ve gotten a bad deal from Enbridge and they’ve been left unprotected by ineffectual regulatory agencies and timid state elected officials. They should be heard.
While you’re all probably on pins and needles waiting to learn what made the #1 spot on our 2013 Year in Review Top Ten List, we’re prolonging the suspense to weigh in on another topic. You see, Enbridge has done its own review (though they’re a year behind) and just released its 2013 Corporate Social Responsibility Report. So that you don’t have to– and trust us, you don’t want to– we’ve taken a look through it.
Mostly, it’s a lot of foggy, unspecified claptrap and self-flattering puffery delivered in barely comprehensible corporate-marketing jargon, full of sentences like this: “Enbridge manages the impacts of our operations on communities through three areas of enterprise-wide activity that have complementary programs and practices.” That sort of thing goes on for 205 pages. Just how bad is it? Well, the word “impact” (or variants of it) occurs on 71 of those 205 pages, usually multiple times; on one page, for example, the word is used 12 times, which yields painful sentences like this: “These measures will be implemented within five years of the impact occurring.”
But if you can get past the atrocious corporatized prose, the most striking thing about the Report is the almost complete and total absence of any mention whatsoever of the Line 6B replacement project– an exceedingly bizarre omission considering the fact that it amounts to a nearly $3 billion capital investment for Enbridge. Of course, the Report does mention the Line 6B rupture in Marshall a handful of times, but beyond that, there isn’t a word about the fact that Enbridge spent most of 2012 constructing a brand new Line 6B through a significant stretch of Michigan. Obviously, this is a curious omission for a number of reasons. But let’s focus on just one:
Enbridge spends a lot of time in the report explaining how it conforms to the guidelines set forth by the Global Reporting Initiative, which is apparently a pretty big deal. We’re not quite sure why and a quick visit to the GRI website isn’t much help. Here’s how they describe their mission. We’ll award bonus points to anyone who can make heads or tails out of this:
The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is a leading organization in the sustainability field. GRI promotes the use of sustainability reporting as a way for organizations to become more sustainable and contribute to sustainable development.
Evidently, if you repeat the word “sustainable” enough times, magical things will happen; you may even be safely returned home to Kansas.
Anyway, according to Enbridge’s CSR Report, one of the “tests suggested by the GRI” to ensure completeness of information is that “The report does not omit relevant information that would influence or inform stakeholder assessments or decisions, or that would reflect significant economic, environmental and social impacts.” Again, the prose here is terribly and needlessly unclear, but the gist of it seems to be that if you leave out pertinent information in your report, people might not be able to trust what you are saying. Which is one of the reasons why it is so very strange that Enbridge would leave out information as relevant to their corporate conduct in 2012 as the major project they started in Michigan.
This omission is most disturbing when it comes to the section of the Report on “Community and Landowner Relations” (including a section titled– what else?– “Assessing Impacts”). There, Enbridge says that its philosophy “is to be as transparent as possible with our stakeholders. . . We accomplish this by undertaking timely, honest and open communication with them and with communities located near planned projects that may have an impact on them.” And how, exactly, does the report go about assessing the transparency, timeliness, honesty, and openness of its communications? Well, it doesn’t. It does provide a “Scorecard” that purports to provide “results” of these efforts. But there’s no score recorded on the scorecard; there’s no data and barely even one single example of how Enbridge has communicated honestly or openly with landowners.
Even worse is Enbridge’s discussion of the “public concerns” over three of its most high-profile projects: Northern Gateway, the Line 9 reversal, and the Marshall spill. That discussion is titled “Challenges and Our Responses” and it is Enbridge’s attempt to demonstrate how they deal with “contentious issues and projects.” Here is the entirety of what Enbridge has to say about the “contentious issues” associated with the Marshall spill and its aftermath (which presumably includes the replacement of Line 6B):
On June 24, 2013, an individual protesting oil pipelines and spills disrupted the rebuilding of Enbridge’s 6B pipeline south of Marshall, Michigan (close to where the pipeline ruptured in 2010), for several hours.
Yep, that’s it. According to Enbridge, the only “challenge” associated with the Marshall spill, the ongoing cleanup, and the replacement of the line is Chris Wahmoff’s now-infamous protest. Nothing about the challenges before the MPSC; nothing about the POLAR lawsuits; nothing about the dozens and dozens of condemnation cases and other legal disputes with landowners; nothing about the protracted battle with Brandon Township; nothing about the innumerable stories of land agent misbehavior, poor communication, line list violations, or general landowner dissatisfaction that we documented all throughout 2012 and 2013 (you’ll find discussions of all of that here in our archives). Enbridge simply pretends like none of this ever happened. Instead, once again refusing to take an honest look at its own conduct or its critics and still working from the Pat Daniel playbook, Enbridge would have readers of its Corporate Social Responsibility Report believe that concerns about its activities in Michigan can be boiled down to a single, isolated environmental radical climbing inside a pipe one day. Rest assured that they treat the reasonable, diverse concerns about their Canadian projects just as dismissively.
We keep thinking that this sort of delusional behavior is unsustainable, but nothing we say seems to have much impact.
Welcome to 2014 everybody! In the spirit of the New Year, we’re taking a bit of time to look back by counting down our Top Ten posts of the year that just was. If you missed the bottom five, you can read about them here. But just to recap them quickly:
Now on to the final five:
5. PHMSA. Last summer, we were lucky enough to be invited by the National Wildlife Federation to participate in a lobbying “fly-in” to ask some of our elected officials to support the NWF petition seeking some new rules on pipeline safety from PHMSA. We also wanted to meet with PHMSA officials themselves, but they declined. This did not please us, especially since, in our view, PHMSA is already far too insulated from the concerns and viewpoints of ordinary citizens– as opposed to the concerns and viewpoints of industry. We’ll have much more to say about PHMSA in 2014, especially once we return to writing about the PS Trust conference last November. And we are likely to once again adopt the tone of this post that we wrote upon our return from the D.C. trip.
4. Enbridge Thinks EPA is Stupid. Among the more astonishing Enbridge blunders of the last year was their hapless, thoughtless, tone-deaf, corner-cutting attempt to secure a dredge-site plan in Comstock Township so that they could complete the Kalamazoo River cleanup according to the deadline set by the Environmental Protection Agency. In addition to attempting to skirt local zoning ordinances, they also managed to agitate the owner of one of the state’s best breweries and as a result found themselves in a bit of a pickle. Then, in order to get out of the pickle they found themselves in, Enbridge Vice President Richard Adams went and crafted one of the most desperate, disingenuous, counter-factual, values-violating letters imaginable to the EPA asking for more time– as if the EPA were somehow completely unaware of the facts on the ground. Fortunately, the EPA turned out not to be as blind, gullible, and stupid as Enbridge evidently thought they were.
3. Why Enbridge Can’t Do Better. If you just went and re-visited that little episode, you might be wondering to yourself, as we have on countless occasions, why in the world Enbridge conducts itself this way, why they can’t just do things right, why they can’t act according to– not in opposition to– their professed values. This is something we’ve pondered long and hard, far too much really. In fact, it’s something we’re going to ponder some more in the next week or so as we tell you a little about Enbridge’s just-released “Corporate Social Responsibility Report” for the past year. But back in June, we pondered it somewhat systematically in a series of posts that considered a number of possible theories for why Enbridge behaves the way it does. We’re not sure we arrived at any clear conclusions– but we think our hypothesis rests on some pretty firm evidentiary and experiential ground.
2. Enbridge Re-writes Michigan Law. One would reasonably think, after a disaster like the Marshall spill and all we know about its causes, that public officials and regulatory agencies would scrutinize the company responsible for the disaster very carefully, that those same officials and agencies would be skeptical, hyper-vigilant, extra-tough. But one would be wrong– at least here in Michigan. From the governors (outgoing and incoming) on down, almost no one in a position of authority at the state level uttered a word when Enbridge launched its “replacement” project. Frankly, in our view those officials– especially the Governor– are partially responsible for the nightmare so many landowners have had to endure over the past two years. Or, if we’re being generous, perhaps it’s just that they believed the Michigan Public Service Commission, the agency responsible for approving pipeline projects and entrusted with the solemn power to bestow upon private corporations the power of eminent domain, would do its job.
But one of the biggest stories of the past year is the story of how the MPSC did NOT do its job, failing miserably to protect the public interest and playing the role of Enbridge’s flunky. This became clear during the Phase Two MPSC proceedings, which we covered and wrote about at length, mainly in this series detailing the laughable efforts of their public engineer, the MPSC staff attorney’s seeming advocacy for Enbridge’s arguments, the Administrative Law Judge’s background and Enbridge-friendly rulings, the gloating, mean-spirited, unprofessional final ruling, and more. Frankly (if you’ll forgive us for saying so), we think it’s the most important stuff we’ve written. That’s because, procedurally speaking, in Michigan the MPSC is the only line of defense for landowners and the environment. But rather than working for us, they went to bat for Enbridge. How that happened is a disturbing tale that was never really covered in any detail in the press (save for Inside Climate News). So if we had to choose just one single post that we wrote in 2013 that everyone should read, just one post that Beth Wallace’s mom should send around in one of her promotional blitzes, it would be this one. In it, we explain how Michigan public officials, along with a local Michigan law firm (Fraser Trebilcock Davis & Dunlap) worked together to sell out their fellow citizens to a Canadian corporation and its industry colleagues for years to come.
And yet, not even that vitally important story is #1 on our list. What could possibly top that? We’ll let you know in a final installment coming soon!