A Bad Week for Democracy in Michigan

A Bad Week for Democracy in Michigan

You probably won’t hear about it much in the news, given recent events in the national political arena, but two very bad regulatory decisions were made here in Michigan this week that ought to alarm you. Both of them could significantly weaken local authority—like efforts to protect sensitive natural resources— in matters involving energy infrastructure.

If you’re a fellow Line 6b landowner, you may be apt to experience a disturbing flashback, as I did. So brace yourself. You might recall that one of the prolonged controversies during the “replacement” had to do with the question of whether Enbridge was required to comply with local ordinances or obtain local consent for their work as stipulated by the Michigan constitution. I wrote about this on a number of occasions. Well, this week, the state Supreme Court issued a ruling on a very similar question. In effect, the decisions says that the Michigan Public Service Commission (you remember them, right), comprised of political appointees who are in no way accountable to voters, can preempt ordinances passed by democratically elected local officials.

Here’s the story: over in Oshtemo Township near Kalamazoo, a utility company called the Michigan Electric Transmission Company (METC) wanted to install a new electrical transmission line. In keeping with practices by now all-too-familiar, the company failed to communicate openly with local officials—despite repeated requests from township officials—and provided the township with very little information about the project, including about things as basic as routing. Unable to obtain precise information from METC and undertandably concerned about its natural resources, the township then passed an ordinance requiring the transmission line to be buried underground where it passes through the village. METC ignored this ordinance and applied for a certificate from the MPSC anyway.

On the question of the compliance with the ordinance, the Administrative Law Judge in the case sided with Oshtemo Township. The MPSC, however, disagreed with the ALJ and insisted that their own decision effectively overrode the authority of the Oshtemo ordinance. Here is what the MPSC said:

The Staff argues that the purpose of the Oshtemo ordinance was to usurp Commission authority and create an obstacle to the construction of the project. The Staff reiterates its opposition to enforcement and further disagrees with the ALJ’s recommendation that the Commission condition the CPCN on a requirement that METC underground a portion of its line as required by the ordinance.

Note that the Commission’s primary concern is with its own “authority,” not the will of the people (of Osthemo Township), the legitimacy of statutes passed by democratically elected officials, nor the protection of the township’s natural resources. Sound familiar?

So this week, the Michigan Supreme Court heard the township’s appeal on this matter (which was supported, it’s worth noting, by the Michigan Townships Association, which certainly understood the stakes of the matter) and sided with the MPSC. What that means is that a few—and I mean literally a few: THREE, to be precise—unelected, industry-friendly regulators who, history shows, have very little interest in actually regulating the behaviors and actions of large companies like METC (and Enbridge and Energy Transfer) or in protecting the citizens they are ostensibly appointed to serve get to dictate energy and right-of-way policy over and above the actions of elected officials in every single community across the state. You tell me who’s doing the usurping here.

Of course, it’s also the case that not every decision made by a duly elected legislative body is a good one. In fact, the Michigan legislature seems to excel and making abominable decisions. Which brings me to the second bad news of the week. The state House of Representatives just passed HB 4205, which is unoffically called the “no stricter than federal” bill. The bill’s foolish idea—and believe me, I know this sounds absurd— is to prohibit state regulatory agencies from making any rules that are stricter than already existing federal regulations. This is transparently idiotic, since federal regulations, weak and ineffectual as they tend to be, do not account for local conditions. How could they? Yet Michigan state legislators want to make it harder, not easier, for state-specific regulations—regulations that might help protect the state’s thousands of miles of coastline, its freshwater resources—to be enacted. It’s as if no Republican member of the state House (no Democrats voted for the bill) has ever heard of, say, Flint. Or petcoke.

What’s worse is that the House already tried this— six years ago. But back then even Governor Snyder thought it was a bad idea and vetoed the bill. Yet here it is again. I have already written to my representative, Joe Graves, expressing my great disappointment in his vote for this terrible legislation. And I’ll be writing to my state senator and the Governor as well. I encourage you to do the same.

Enbridge Community Meetings

Enbridge Community Meetings

As many of you know, postcards from Enbridge have been arriving in the mail this week announcing a “Community Meeting.” In fact, Enbridge is (has been) holding a number of these meetings around the region this spring (details below). Understandably, this has people wondering and wary as to what Enbridge might be up to now. We’ve received queries from a number of people and also heard rumors of various sorts. So we just wanted to take a minute to set the record straight about these meetings.

You may recall that last summer, Enbridge finally reached a settlement with the Department of Justice for the Marshall spill. At that time, we expressed our deep disappointment in that settlement, which is shockingly favorable to Enbridge’s interest. In our view, it amounts to a reward, in fact, rather than a punishment.

At any rate, among the many directives in the Consent Decree outlining the details of the settlement (which you can read here) is a requirement that Enbridge perform “Community Outreach.” Here is what the decree says:

In addition to the above exercises, Enbridge shall conduct or hire a contractor to conduct Community Outreach sessions regarding the hazards of the different oils in the Lakehead System and the location of Enbridge pipelines in the community and how such pipelines are marked. Specifically, within one year of the Effective Date, and for each year thereafter until the Decree is terminated, Enbridge shall hold at least 15 Community Outreach Sessions in 15 different communities where the Lakehead System is located. Enbridge shall also provide information at the Community Outreach sessions regarding: (i) how the community should respond in the event of a spill, (ii) how the community can obtain information in the event of a spill from Enbridge and government agencies, and (iii) how the community can report spills to Enbridge, EPA, and the National Response Center. (116.e., p. 115)

So these meetings are nothing more than informational sessions to comply with the DoJ order. They are apt to be rather boring– though you can be sure that we’ll be attending to find out. If nothing else, it will be interesting to see whether Enbridge has anything to say about “the hazards of the different oils in the Lakehead System” or whether they’ll just try to tell us once again how much the products they transport enhance our lives.

Here are the remaining meetings (a couple of others have already been held), with dates, times, and locations. Registration appears to be required.

Stockbridge, MI 
Tue, May 9, 2017
Community Outreach Session: 6:00 pm
Heritage Elementary School
222 Western Ave,
Stockbridge, MI 49285
Clarkston, MI

Wed, May 10, 2017
Community Outreach Session: 6:00 pm
Deer Lake Athletic Club
6167 White Lake Rd,
Village of Clarkston, MI 48346

Port Huron, MI 
Thu, May 11, 2017
Community Outreach Session: 6:00 pm
McMorran Place
701 McMorran Blvd.
Port Huron , MI 48060

One final word: we know the blog has been dormant for a while as we’ve been attending to other things. But we’re planning a comeback– or more precisely, a reinvention. Please stay tuned for the relaunch coming very soon!

More on the Marshall Spill “Settlement”

More on the Marshall Spill “Settlement”

As we reported last week, the Department of Justice and Enbridge have reached finally reached a settlement in the Marshall spill. For reasons we described in our post, we don’t think the settlement is at all satisfactory. And we’re not alone. In an excellent Smart Pig blog post, Rebecca Craven of the Pipeline Safety Trust also outlines some of the areas where the settlement appears to fall short. Our own view is that, in many ways, the settlement is quite advantageous to Enbridge.

However, there is one bit of good news in the settlement that we neglected to mention: it clearly prohibits Enbridge from ever re-using the original Line 6B. You might recall that this is something many of us in Michigan asked for repeatedly prior to construction of the new Line. But Enbridge always hedged. Now, that line will be decommissioned permanently, which is very good news indeed. Of course, even that injunction is less than ideal: it should have been part of the terms of approval of the new line and Enbridge should have been required to remove it, rather than leaving it in the ground.

Which brings us back to the consent decree. You see, as we mentioned in our last post, the proposed settlement contains a number of provisions relating to Enbridge’s Line 3 project in Minnesota, a project that might well induce in Michiganders a terrifying sense of déjà vu. Like Line 6B, Line 3 is old and deteriorating. The consent decree requires Enbridge to replace it and decommission the original Line 3. But this is in no way an onerous requirement for Enbridge and it certainly isn’t punishment. That’s because Enbridge already planned to “replace” the line. But as with Line 6B, they aren’t really “replacing” the line. Instead, they’re building a brand new one—an even bigger one—and they want to build it in a different location. Yes, you read that correctly: a larger diameter pipeline in a different location. To call that a replacement is an abuse of language. It’s also a very clever way of skirting the requirements of their presidential permit for that line—a replay of their Line 6B strategy.

But the Line 3 boondoggle is even worse than the Line 6B replacement. That’s because the consent decree does not require the permanent decommissioning of the original Line 3. Instead, it lays out a number of conditions that would allow Enbridge to continue to operate it. That’s deeply troubling. If that line is going to be decommissioned, we agree with our friends in Minnesota that it should be taken out of the ground, just as should have been done with Line 3 (in fact, you can support their efforts by signing this petition). But instead, the settlement leaves open the possibility of allowing Enbridge to operate both a new Line 3 in a new location and the old Line 3. As a result, Enbridge, cunningly, seems to have negotiated an agreement with the Department of Justice that essentially rewards them for the costliest inland oil spill in U.S. history.

But here’s the (potentially) good news: the settlement is not yet final. The public has 30 days to comment on it. We urge you to do so. In particular, we urge you to ask the DoJ to remove the Line 3 provisions altogether. After all, what do those things have to do with affairs in Michigan in the first place? You might also encourage DoJ to file criminal charges and to require Supplemental Environmental Projects that could benefit Michigan. Lastly, you might ask for some tougher requirements with regard to Line 5. Instead of giving them tacit permission to continue to operate those lines, Enbridge should have to generate a plan to shut down and remove those dangerous pipelines from beneath the Straits of Mackinac once and for all.

For more reasons you should oppose the Line 3 project and helpful links for commenting on the consent decree, visit this page from our friends at Honor the Earth.

Enbridge Ruins Lives, Gets Rewarded

Enbridge Ruins Lives, Gets Rewarded

We’re back from our period of dormancy to mark the sixth anniversary of the Marshall spill. (Yes, despite what Enbridge says, today is the anniversary!).

By now you have probably heard the news: last week the Department of Justice, at long last, has announced penalties against Enbridge for the devastating Marshall spill. Why it took six full years and why the penalties were a matter of negotiation, we will never understand. But setting that aside, we’ve got a few things to say about the substance of the so-called “settlement”:

First, you probably read that Enbridge has been “hit with a $177 million bill” or some such. Everybody seems to be seizing upon this $177 million figure, even those who have been most outspoken or dogged in documenting Enbridge’s misdeeds. But don’t believe it. Enbridge was not hit with a $177 million dollar bill. The DoJ levied a $61 million civil penalty— for violations of the Clean Water Act. They were also “hit” with another $1 million for another spill. And they are required to pay back another $5 million to the Oil Spill Liability Fund, which they drew from during the cleanup.

So why is everybody saying $177 million? Well, it’s because Enbridge and DoJ estimate that it’s going to cost Enbridge an additional $110 million to comply with a number of provisions in the settlement, many of them having to do with safety tests of their pipeline network and others having to do with repairs and other costs.

But it’s a real stretch to pretend that money is some sort of penalty. After all, most of what the DoJ is requiring of Enbridge— hydrotests to assess the conditions of their pipelines, for instance— is stuff you’d expect them to be doing anyway. It’s the normal cost of operating pipelines.

Even worse, probably the largest chunk of that $110 million has to do with the replacement of Line 3, an aging pipeline Enbridge operates which runs from Neche, North Dakota to Superior, Wisconsin, which the consent decree requires. Trouble is, replacing that line is something Enbridge is already planning to do. So it’s a capital investment they are making anyway (or so they have hoped), regardless of what DoJ said.

Which brings us to our second point: as a provision in this settlement, the replacement of Line 3 is not a penalty. It’s a gift. In fact, it’s great news for Enbridge.

We told you a bit about Line 3 a long time ago. That proposed “replacement” project is an even greater boondoggle than the “replacement” of Line 6b was. That’s because Enbridge’s proposed route for the new Line 3 doesn’t even follow the same route as the original Line 3. It’s not a “replacement,” it’s new infrastructure. Enbridge wants to put that line in the same corridor as the proposed Sandpiper pipeline— a route that, as our friends at the Friends of the Headwaters know very well, is totally bonkers, as it threatens some of the most environmentally sensitive areas in the state.

Even worse, the route for the newly proposed Line 3 is identical to the route of the Sandpiper pipeline, which, frankly put, is just plain crazy. Our friends at the Friends of the Headwaters have explained why repeatedly— and convincingly.

So here’s the problem with the DoJ provision: it may well be that Line 3, an aging pipeline, needs to be replaced (just as Line 6b did). But that fact does not mean that Enbridge ought to get to do whatever it wants, however it wants. But that’s going to be exactly what happens now. Enbridge will use that provision as a cudgel to beat any sort of questions or opposition to that project into submission. Any questions anybody asks Enbridge about the Line 3 replacement (such as its route) are going to be met with “we’re legally obligated to do this according to the Department of Justice, so just shut up.” Essentially, that provision gives Enbridge’s Line 3 plans federal blessing.

The third problem with the settlement is the failure of the DoJ to file any kind of criminal charges. Here it’s worth remembering some basic facts (all readily available in the NTSB report from 2011): Enbridge knew about defects in Line 6b for five years, but chose to do nothing about them. For years, Enbridge fostered a “culture of deviance” from its own safety protocols, which directly contributed to the Marshall disaster. As if that’s not bad enough, Enbridge’s control room operators knew there was a problem with Line 6b SEVENTEEN HOURS before shutting the pipeline down.

Letting Enbridge off the criminal hook is a slap in the face to the families whose lives were ruined by Enbridge’s documented negligence. Here we’ll just quote our friend Susan Connolly:

“Six years have passed with questions unanswered and concerns remain,” Susan Connolly, a local Michigan mother whose children suffered rashes as a result of the Kalamazoo spill, said in a statement. “The fines related to the Clean Water Act should not be in the form of a ‘settlement’ discussed and agreed to between the agencies and the at fault party. The maximum penalty should be ordered, criminal penalties assessed, and a Michigan Pipeline Trust created.”

Fourth, the feds missed an opportunity to make some lasting good out of this disaster. It is common in cases like this one, where businesses reach settlements with the feds for failures to comply with environmental laws, to create what are called Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEP), which are designed to help protect the environment. In a state as reliant on its marvelous natural resources, it is frankly shocking that the settlement included no SEPs of any kind. This is a travesty.

Finally, the settlement includes a whole bunch of provisions related to Line 5. Mostly, these have to do with conducting tests to assess the condition of the lines and repairing any defects or problems with the pipelines’ supports or coverage. On the face of it, these seem like good measures (although, again, these are things Enbridge ought to be doing already). But as with Line 3, these provisions simply give Enbridge federal cover. In this case, cover to continue operating those lines indefinitely, when nearly everybody— even those whose judgement is generally suspect— now recognizes that those lines ought to be shut down and decommissioned permanently. But now Enbridge gets to pretend like the federal government has given its approval for them to continue to operate Line 5. And, unfortunately, they’re right about that. They’ll now tell everybody that these federal mandates preempt any and all state and local authority.

As we (and plenty of others) have said repeatedly, the Marshall spill was not just an accident. It was not an honest mistake. It was the result of systemic problems and preventable actions. Those problems and actions destroyed properties, uprooted families, affected individuals’ health in ways we still don’t even understand. The DoJ’s consent decree does not even come close to redressing those actions; it certainly won’t do anything to deter Enbridge from continuing to operate as it always has. Quite the contrary: given the modesty of the penalty and the friendly Line 3 and Line 5 provisions, the consent decree, six years in the making, rewards Enbridge’s behavior.

ET Rover, Fact, and Spin

ET Rover, Fact, and Spin

We left off yesterday’s post about ET Rover’s recent meetings with local officials by expressing some concern about whether some of those officials are equipped– for whatever reasons– to adequately inform and assist landowners. So far, we’ve been very impressed with the willingness of several township officials to speak out forcefully against Rover and the company’s shabby treatment of pretty much everyone. But now that Rover has launched a charm offensive and is (presumably) doing some behind-the-scenes glad-handing, backslapping, and smoke-blowing, we’re a little nervous. We’ve seen before what that sort of thing can do.

Recent news reports have provided little comfort. In fact, judging from what we’ve read, the meetings have served only to confuse matters. It’s starting to look like our public officials are neither receiving nor providing citizens with reliable, accurate information. That’s why we’re also nervous about this week’s Town Hall meeting (Oct. 15 at Holly High School from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m). We have serious fears about the potential spread of bad information.

Here’s a run-down, with examples drawn from two recent news articles about last week’s meetings, of the kinds of imprecise or just plain wrong information that has us so very worried:

Is there anything local governments can do? Yes!

According to Susan Bromley at the Brandon Citizen, Groveland Township Supervisor Bob DePalma doesn’t think “any thing of worthwhile consequence was discussed.” (No surprise there.) But DePalma also told Susan Bromley of the Brandon Citizen that “They [ET Rover] fully realize the federal government has regulations on them, what we say or do has little benefit.” No doubt this is what ET Rover said. It’s the same line Enbridge used when they rolled into town: “pipelines are regulated at the federal level.” As we recall, DePalma accepted that line then just as he appears to accept it now.

In fairness, it’s not entirely clear what DePalma’s point is here, though we do fear it’s the same old shoulder-shrugging, helpless attitude we’ve seen from him before. Whatever the case, it is clearly NOT true that what township officials “say or do has little benefit.” Yes, FERC has ultimate approval of the pipeline project. But there are plenty of things township supervisors, state representatives, and citizens can do. One of them is registering their objections and concerns about this project publicly and with FERC. Another is working hard to provide accurate, reliable information about the project, the process, and the things landowners can do to protect themselves. That could benefit landowners tremendously if this project is approved.

Why did Rover re-route? Nobody really knows (except Rover, and they won’t tell it straight)

Unfortunately, we’re not sure whether DePalma can distinguish between accurate information and pipeline company spin. For example, DePalma also reports that ET Rover shifted their original route north “because it affected 53-54 homes that were going to have to be taken.” We don’t doubt that this is what Rover told him. The question is whether it’s true. In fact, we’re not sure what “53-54 homes were going to have to be taken” even means. It’s vague to the point of meaningless (more on this below). Nor is there any way to verify it.

ET Rover reps apparently repeated this story in their meeting with Lapeer County Commissioners, according to Maria Brown at the Tri-City Times:

Company officials told Lapeer County leaders on Tuesday that the route had been moved north from Oakland County where more than 50 homes would have had to be condemned since they had been built on an existing natural gas line easement.

As we said above, it’s not at all clear what this means, especially with the use of the word “condemn” here– which could suggest the legal process of condemnation (using eminent domain) but here seems to mean something more like destroy. Nor is it clear what “existing natural gas line easement” they’re talking about. The Vector pipeline? Are we to believe that homes have been built on top of the Vector (or some other) pipeline easement? And that somehow, originally, Rover thought they would build their pipeline in the same place? Both of those things seem impossible. So maybe the reporter got something mixed up here? Whatever the case, none of this makes much sense, which makes us awfully skeptical. Even worse, none of this, whatever the source of such poor information, is even remotely helpful to concerned landowners.

We’re even more skeptical of this comment from Lapeer Commissioner Dave Eady about the re-route: “It had nothing to do with politics or resolutions in opposition to the project,” Eady said. We have no doubt this is what ET Rover told Eady and the other commissioners. But surely Eady isn’t naive and gullible enough to believe it. Anyone can readily understand that ET Rover would never ever admit to moving the pipeline route because of landowner opposition; that would only invite landowner opposition elsewhere. So why in the world would he repeat that claim as if it were true? That’s frightening.

We feel a little better about the comment of Commissioner Lenny Schneider who notes, simply, “It’s not our job to take their word for it.” Hopefully, he has repeated that to his colleague Dave Eady.

How much gas will benefit Michiganders? Again, no one knows (and Rover won’t tell)

Even worse than the above are the (hollow) assurances ET Rover gave about where the gas they’ll transport is going. DePalma reports that contrary to initial reports, the natural gas is not mainly for Canadian export and “a good amount” of the natural gas transported by ET Rover will stay in Michigan. This statement only raises more questions:

What’s “a good amount”? Who decides what a good amount is? Is this what Rover reps said or is that DePalma’s characterization? Was DePalma able to verify that claim? Did Rover say exactly what percentage of the gas will stay in Michigan versus the amount that will be exported to Canada? We’re pretty sure that answer to those last three questions is “no.” Those are questions that are virtually impossible to answer. Answers to them may– if we’re lucky– be included in Rover’s application to FERC, which they plan to file in January. But since FERC doesn’t require that kind of information and because Rover doesn’t really want anybody to know (they’ll likely claim that it’s proprietary), chances are it won’t even be included there. We can’t say for sure, but it sounds like DePalma believes Rover when they say such things. But he shouldn’t. That’s what scares us.

Is Rover prohibited or even discouraged from routing their pipeline along a highway? No. 

Here’s one reason DePalma shouldn’t believe the things ET Rover reps tell him. Evidently they told him this:

Rover representatives also explained that the reason the pipeline can’t follow a suggested route along the I-69 corridor is because close proximity to highways is discouraged for safety reasons.

Note here the passive construction “is discouraged” We have little doubt that this is exactly how ET Rover phrased it. It’s the sort of verbal construction we discourage our students from using, because unlike our sentence (where we say “we discourage”), the passive version omits the agent of the action. It begs the question of who, exactly, discourages routing pipelines along highways for safety reasons. The implication is that it’s some federal agency. But there are no federal guidelines on this matter. In fact, highway corridors are not even considered “high consequence areas.” Of course, this is not to say that it’s necessarily a good idea to build a pipeline along a highway. But doing so is no worse than building a pipeline in close proximity, say, to a school or suburban subdivision, yet that happens routinely. The point here is that companies like Rover are NOT “discouraged” for safety reasons from building pipelines along highways. They’re just saying that as a convenient excuse to stick with their preferred route.

 Is there a deadline for public comments to FERC? No.

This one comes from Lapeer County Commissioner Lenny Schneider:

Schneider said the company can’t provide all the answers county officials want until land surveys are complete and considering this task might not be done by year’s end, which is also the public comment deadline; the county board seeks to go on the record with their concerns.

The first part of this is probably more or less true: some questions will be unanswerable until surveying is complete and the route is finalized with a bit more precision (although we suspect this is also another convenient way for Rover to evade questions). But the second part is absolutely NOT true. There is no year-end “deadline” for public comments. After Rover officially files its application with FERC, citizens have much more time and opportunity to comment— and they should do so. We don’t know where Schneider got the idea that public comment will be prohibited after the first of the year. But this is another example of how unreliable information gets disseminated.

Can FERC approve this project without giving Rover the power of eminent domain? No.

And one final bit of information to correct, this one also from the Lapeer Commissioners:

Commissioners are also urging the public and affected landowners to file their own concerns and complaints with the federal agency by year’s end, asking that the commission either halt the project or approve it without granting eminent domain. Without eminent domain, Energy Transfer would be required to negotiate with individual landowners for easement payments.

Now, we very much appreciate this sentiment. And we wish this were a realistic option (and in other cases, we’ve made a similar argument). But in this case, urging citizens to request approval without eminent domain demonstrates a basic misunderstanding of the FERC process. That’s because eminent domain is precisely what “approval” means. ET Rover is going to apply for a “Certificate of Public Necessity and Convenience.” According to the law, that means the authority to condemn. So ET Rover isn’t just asking for permission to build a pipeline. They’re asking for permission to build the pipeline with or without the approval of property owners in the pipeline’s route. In this context “approv[ing] it without granting eminent domain” simply does not make sense. By law, FERC cannot grant a certificate without eminent domain.

Obviously, these are not simple matters. And there is no reason to expect township supervisors and county commissioners to be experts on them. But it’s NOT too much to expect them to be deeply skeptical of what ET Rover tells them and to be careful about reporting what Rover says as fact. We’re going to do everything we can to make it to Wednesday’s Town Hall in the hopes of preventing (or correcting) the spread of inaccurate information. Stay tuned.

Meet Sandpiper

Meet Sandpiper

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If you “like” us over on Facebook, you might know that on our annual vacation to Minnesota this year– yes, the one that takes us past the Enbridge offices in Superior, Wisconsin— we were lucky enough to speak to an extraordinary group of citizens embroiled in their own battle with Enbridge. The Friends of the Headwaters up in Park Rapids are concerned (and rightfully so) with the route Enbridge has proposed for its “Sandpiper” pipeline, which would transport crude from the Bakken region of North Dakota all the way to Superior. Along the way, it would pass through some of the most pristine, untrammeled, and beautiful areas in Minnesota– no, in the country– including the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Frankly, unless you’re an oil pipeline executive whose only concern is moving product as quickly and cheaply as possible, the route is totally bonkers.

IMG_0388

We’ll have much more to say about Sandpiper and its companion project, the Line 3 “replacement” (both of which we’ve mentioned before), in the weeks and months to come; they’re both a part of the current North American crude and tar sands arms race. At present, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (the equivalent of our MPSC) is reviewing Enbridge’s approval request for Sandpiper. And the Friends of the Headwaters, because they are both rational and devoted to Minnesota’s stunning natural resources, are trying to persuade the PUC to reject Enbridge’s route and to protect the magnificent headwaters. The vast majority of informed Minnesotans appear to agree with them. As landowners who have lived through the “Enbridge experience” and as frequent visitors and admirers of Minnesota’s wonderful and fragile waterways, we fully support the work of the Friends.

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For that reason, we were particularly thrilled to be invited to speak with them about our own experience. An impressive, curious, and thoughtful crowd of about 75 people showed up to the talk. They were full of energy and commitment, much of that we are sure owing to the example of Friends of the Headwaters President Richard Smith, who is one smart, cool dude (here he is all brilliant and sensible on MSNBC’s “The Ed Show.”) Richard is collaborating with a whole bunch of awesome people, including Deanna Johnson and Barry Babcock, who were kind enough to take us on a fun, informative, gorgeous tour of the headwaters at Itasca State Park on a sweltering day. The company and the scenery were so good that the heat didn’t bother us a bit.

Our talk seemed to be well received; we tried not to go on too long. But the best part was the warm hospitality, the great generosity, and the commitment and enthusiasm of the Friends of the Headwaters. IMG_0401As observers of Enbridge expansion projects in the region, we’ve long admired the work the Friends are doing. Getting to know them in person only deepened that admiration, adding to it real fondness. We can’t thank them enough– for the invitation and for their efforts to protect and preserve Minnesota’s natural resources.

Best of all, their cause appears to be gaining steam, so much so that the PUC actually seems to be listening (at least a little) and Enbridge is doing what it does: lots of misleading p.r. 

 

Contest: How Are Pipelines Like People?

Contest: How Are Pipelines Like People?

We’re running a contest! Everyone is eligible. For details, please read on:

For a while now, we’ve been meaning to tell you that Enbridge has started its very own blog! Trust us when we tell you that it is every bit as good as you might imagine. In fact– no offense to all the marvelous sites we visit regularly— it’s pretty quickly becoming our favorite blog ever. It’s so good, in fact, that if we had the time, we’d write about it almost every day. Why? Well, many reasons. For example, there’s the incomprehensible corporate claptrap:

“This means we have a unique opportunity to collaborate with the various components of our value chain,” she adds, “on the role that CSR practices and market-based innovation can play in reducing carbon emissions and improving other aspects of environmental performance.”

There’s the fact that it appears to be written for an audience comprised of junior high school kids:

Energy is as essential to sustaining life today as water. Energy cooks our food, grows our crops, and provides the sustenance we need to lead active lives.

There’s the lineup of authors, which is supposed to make us believe that these Enbridge executives are typing up these blog entries themselves, as opposed to the Enbridge marketing team, which must mean that all Enbridge executives are taught to write in the same bland voice, full of corporatized, hollow slogans:

Our strength is in our people.

As North Americans, we owe our economic and social progress to fossil fuels.

We believe we need to be part of the solution to issues like climate change and we’re working hard to make a difference.

Working together, we will achieve our target of top industry performance.

There’s even the shameless attempt to exploit adorable dogs to persuade people to their point of view (seriously, who would do that?).

But by far, the best post yet comes from (is attributed to?) Leon Zupan, Enbridge’s Chief Operating Officer, Liquids Pipelines, who recently tried his hand at an extended metaphor. According to Zupan, pipelines are a lot like people and many of Enbridge’s employees are a lot like doctors. It goes like this:

First off, let me say that I am conflicted, as most of our pipelines, other than the original four lines, are older than me. I know that the regimen we follow to keep our lines in top shape definitely exceeds my personal regimen of exercise and diet.

Pipelines have some similarities to us:

  • They have to have a health check;
  • They may need some preventive work and the occasional professional treatment, and;
  • If properly looked after, they can last a very long time, maybe an active working life longer than many of us.

We have some of the best pipeline “physicians” in the world working for Enbridge, and coupled with a team of external consultants and repair specialists, we do an industry-leading job of ensuring all of our lines are healthy and fit for purpose.

It goes on in this vein for a few more paragraphs before concluding on a sort of wistfully humanizing note, as Zupan says that he should “aspire to be as fit as the pipelines I look after.”

Now, it just so happens that we love a belabored metaphor. And we love it even more when the metaphor is terribly ill-conceived, as this one is. In fact, it got us thinking about some of the other ways that pipelines are just like people. So much so, that we thought it might be fun to make it a contest. So what do you think? How are pipelines like people?

We asked the crack Line 6B blog staff and they came up with these:

  • Sometimes pipelines are mistreated and neglected by the people who say they’re taking care of them.
  • Pipelines, like people, often do not fit the perfect ‘mold’ – they are not able to be inspected by the latest ILI devices, having a few too many curves or dips or divets.
  • Pipelines are like people: stuff’s supposed to go in one end and out the other end.  It’s bad if it comes out in the middle.
  • Or, if Enbridge wants to be serious about the health care metaphor, consider this: the U.S. still does not have universal health care for all of its citizens. 14 percent of Americans remain uninsured. But that’s still a better situation than for hazardous liquid pipelines, where only about 42% of them are subject to rules that require periodic “health check” inspections. As for other 58% of them, operators aren’t required to take them in for check ups or “occasional professional treatments” ever.  EVER. Until they fail, and then they have to fix them – much like the uninsured going to the ER.  One would think that both ought to get some preventive care, no?

So there’s your challenge: how are pipelines like people? pipeline operators like doctors? (surely someone can cook up a good malpractice joke!). We’ll conduct the contest over at the Line 6B blog Facebook page. The winner, determined by the number of “likes” will receive bragging rights and admiration!

Submit your entry over on our Facebook page.

Does Enbridge Owe You Money?

Does Enbridge Owe You Money?

Remember how Enbridge says they treat landowners fairly and consistently? Well, we’ve got a story for you.

This is a very important post, one we’ve had in our back pockets for a while as we’ve tried, with no success and no small amount of frustration, to gather some reliable information about the matter. As many of you know, a longstanding concern for landowners on Line 6B has been the widely disparate treatment– from land agent responsiveness to compensation– landowners have received from Enbridge, despite their claims to the contrary. The subject of this post is a perfect illustration of this inconsistent treatment.

The whole thing is hazy and complicated. But the bottom line here is this: if you are a Line 6B landowner, especially along Phase One, Enbridge might owe you some money. As with most things Enbridge-related, it’s all a little convoluted, so we’ll provide both a short version and a long version. At the end, we also have some contact information in case you’d like to contact Enbridge to inquire about this matter– which we encourage you to do.

Short Version

If you are on Phase One and were NOT taken to court in condemnation proceedings, you probably settled with Enbridge in 2012. However, there is a good chance that Enbridge should have come back to you at some point to make an additional payment based on a recalculation of the values you were originally paid. How do you know? Well, you’ll have to ask Enbridge. But one indication is this: did a land agent come back to you in 2013 and write you a check and give you a receipt? Did you receive a 1099 tax form from Enbridge this year for filing your 2013 tax forms? If not, you might be owed some money.

Long Version

Now here’s the more detailed explanation of all of this. Please bear with us while we try to explain it, also bearing in mind that we are neither accountants nor attorneys. We’ll try to be as accurate as we can and hope that we don’t make any major mistakes. Again, it is our understanding that all of this pertains primarily, perhaps only, to Phase One landowners.

When you settled with Enbridge– again, assuming you did not go to court–you most likely received compensation, in the form of a check from Enbridge, for three things: (1) use of the existing easement (what was probably called an “Additional Pipeline Receipt”), (2) for the use of Temporary Work Space and/or Additional Temporary Work Space (TWS and ATWS), and (3) compensation for damages, including the value of trees (or timber) that were removed from your property. The amounts you were paid for the first two of those items were based on fixed values determined by Enbridge. Compensation for damages was determined by your negotiations with a land agent.

Now, the way in which those fixed values (for the easement and TWS) were determined by Enbridge has been in quite a bit of flux from the beginning of this whole project. For instance, when we were first approached, the per acre value that Enbridge was using to calculate the additional pipeline receipt was $6500 per acre. Some time later, we were told that that value had been increased (as if by magic) to $30,000 per acre. Then we learned that our neighbors were receiving even more per acre than we were for virtually identical properties. We’ve heard stories along the line of different values as well, some higher, some lower (what were you paid per acre, we wonder?). These various values have always seemed to us almost completely arbitrary– and certainly not consistent. In fact, during condemnation hearings in Livingston County, Enbridge all but admitted that they had no real basis for determining those values; it’s as if they were pulling numbers out of thin air.

As for the TWS, Enbridge calculated those payments according to the same values, but paid landowners 30% of that value. So, for instance, if they used 1 acre of TWS, valued at $35k/per acre, they would have paid you $10,500 (that’s 30 percent of 35K).

Finally, Enbridge may have paid you for trees. Trees are even more complicated and arbitrary. In some cases, Enbridge simply paid “timber value” for trees. But in many other cases, the value paid for trees was a matter of negotiation– somewhere between “worthless” (to Enbridge) and “invaluable” (to the landowner).

Now, as near as we can piece this together, here is what happened next (again, we’re being as scrupulously accurate as we can be based on information provided to us by various sources): at some point during the condemnation hearings, Enbridge agreed to pay landowners more than the amounts as described above. Specifically, they agreed to pay 125% of the valuation for the additional pipeline receipt, 50% (not 30%) of the per acre value for TWS, and 150% of the timber valuation. It is our understanding that, at the point, Enbridge decided that all landowners would be similarly compensated– both those who had not yet settled and those who had already been paid.

So here’s what all of this would look like. To make things simple, we’ll use the simplest values possible. (Please note that these numbers are purely fictional and unusually high; there is probably no one with a full acre of easement or TWS.) Let’s say Enbridge had 1 acre of easement on Joe and Jane Jenkins’ property, used 1 acre of TWS, and paid them $1000 for trees (timber). Here’s what the Jenkinses would have received– say, in the summer or fall of 2012) based on those original values:

$35,000 (for additional pipeline) + $10,500 (for TWS) + $1000 (for timber)= $46,500

However, after those condemnation hearings, Enbridge should have come back to the Jenkinses to pay them for the increases stated above. That would look like this:

125% of additional pipeline= $43,750
50% of TWS= $17,500
150% of timber= $1500

Total= $62,750

Now, subtract from that the $46,500 you were already paid and the Jenkinses should have received a check from Enbridge– probably by surprise some time last year– for $19,250.

Again, based on what we were told by our land agent, ALL landowners were to be compensated according to these rates. If you are on Phase Two, these adjusted/increased rates should have been built into your original payments. Check your receipt: were you paid 50% of the per acre value for TWS? By contrast, many Phase One landowners– those who were paid BEFORE these increases– should have received a surprise visit from a land agent to pay out the difference.

However, we know for certain this has not taken place. We know that some people in our neighborhood (we’re on Phase One) have been paid this difference and some have not. Why? We have no clue whatsoever. Partly, it may be because Enbridge has been flying by the seat of its pants since the beginning of this project. More likely, it’s because Enbridge’s land agents are, by turns, overworked, uncaring, hapless, or just not very well trained or informed by Enbridge’s not-terribly-efficient-or-effective land agent supervisors.

This is a matter of basic fairness and decency. We encourage you to contact your land agent– if, that is, you have any idea who your land agent currently is– to find out whether you are due this additional compensation. If we are able to learn anything more about this– though, honestly, we don’t know who is in charge or who might be willing to respond to our inquiries– we will certainly let you know. In the meantime, if you don’t know who your land agent is currently, you can try this number listed on Enbridge’s website for Line 6B landowners:

866-410-4356

Or, if you prefer email, you can try this address:

Line6BPhase2@enbridge.com

 

Enbridge Hauls its Baggage East

Enbridge Hauls its Baggage East

We are currently working on a very important post about a deeply troubling matter that might affect a number of Line 6B landowners. Please stay tuned for it in the next couple of days. As we await some more information– as you know, we strive to be accurate– we thought we’d begin our long overdue and ever-growing news roundup. It’s going to take a few posts.

Now that spring is here (knock on wood!) and the ground has begun to harden a little, Enbridge is getting back to work to our east, putting in the remaining section of pipeline that will run from Ortonville to Marysville, Michigan. Unsurprisingly, that means unhappy landowners. We’ve found some of the local news coverage so far quite interesting:

Over at the Macomb Daily, reporter Lara Mossa quotes our hero Brandon Township Kathy Thurman in an article about Enbridge’s return to work in that area. In her typically restrained way, Thurman recalls some of Brandon’s troubles last year (see our archives) and even talks a little tough:

“There have been a lot of concerns,” she said. “There have been some issues. We ended up shutting them down at one point, because they were in violation of a woodlands agreement.”

Oxford Township Supervisor Bill Dunn, on the other hand, neither reports nor foresees any problems. But his remarks about Enbridge are hardly a ringing endorsement:

“I know they have had problems in other townships, but, for the most part, they are going through very large parcels of land,” he said, adding that much of it is old gravel mines. “It’s not like they’re going through subdivisions. I have not had any complaints. Enbridge has been somewhat cooperative.”

In Bruce Township, according to another Macomb Daily article, residents are (understandably) unhappy with Enbridge’s planned destruction of a number of very tall trees near the Ford test track. Weirdly, Macomb County Road Commissioner Bob Hoepfner thinks that Enbridge’s offer to replant twice as many crappy little trees as the mature ones they’re cutting down is “generous”:

Hoepfner said Enbridge was more than within its rights to do the work on that designated portion of land and offered the county a “two for one” deal to replace all trees that would be removed immediately rather than do their work and see the trees die later.

“They showed us what needed to be done and we agreed with them,” said Hoepfner. “It was a generous offer. Cutting the roots would kill them and the right thing to do is to have them removed.”

But residents and Township Supervisor Richard Cory (no, not that Richard Cory!) think otherwise and say not-so-fast:

“None of us will ever live long enough to ever see those trees provide enough shade over the road like it has now,” said one resident of the proposal to replace the mature trees with new ones after completion of the project.

Cory later asked if residents wanted to fight to have the trees remain intact; the overwhelming response in unison was “we want the trees to stay.”

What the township will base its fight on is a letter Cory read aloud at the meeting from attorney Benjamin Aloia to Enbridge representative Mike Ashton.

Cory said the letter, dated March 10, 2014, was apparently in response to a proposal from Enbridge to remove the trees.

“The Road Commission did not approve or authorize any work whatsoever within the Road Commission’s 36 Mile Road statutory 66-foot full-width right-of-way under this permit,” Cory read to the residents. “The removal of trees was not expressly permitted by the Road Commission with the three-mile stretch of 36 Mile Road in question.”

Finally, from Marysville, the Times Herald reports on some landowners feeling abused by Enbridge. Despite a rather insulting headline– “People Gripe About Enbridge”– the article gives a fair hearing to the concerns of some landowners who appear to have received the same sort of treatment we’ve documented here exhaustively.

What’s the takeaway here? We imagine Enbridge and/or Enbridge apologists would dismiss all of this by saying that any large project is going to run up against some complainers (a notion that, unfortunately, the last story’s headline seems to enforce). But those so-called “gripers”– Brian St. Clair, Thomas Leen, and Judy Robertson, not to mention all those concerned Bruce Township residents– have an awful lot of company. What this says to us is that Enbridge still, after all this time, hasn’t learned anything or is simply incapable of changing its ways.

Corrected tax forms and more

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This week, we received a corrected– and accurate– 1099 tax form from Enbridge, along with an accompanying letter that says they issued SIX THOUSAND incorrect forms (frankly, we’re shocked that they would admit such a thing). So it appears Line 6B landowners aren’t the only ones affected this latest Enbridge gaffe, though it also appears that they’ve straightened it out. We’re assuming you have also received a corrected form; if not, please let us know. More importantly, you should let Enbridge know.

While we’ve got you, here are a few other quick news items worth noting: