Opponents of proposed expansion to Enbridge’s oil-carrying Line 61 are meeting Saturday in Madison for rallying, networking and to brace themselves for a fight to come.
“Our two major goals are first, to raise money for the landowners,” said 350 Madison spokesman Ben Peterson, going on to explain the broader long-term hope: “It’s one of those things that a lot of people talk about it like it is far away, but we’re trying to remind people that it is something that is happening right here in Wisconsin, too, and it isn’t going away.”
While the most visible environmental fights have been in opposition to the proposed Keystone Pipeline running from Canada to Louisiana, designed to carry about 830,000 barrels, and the Dakota Access Pipeline, which would carry about 470,000 barrels per day, Enbridge’s Line 61 is in the midst of ramping up from 400,000 barrels per day to 1.2 million barrels per day, carried from Superior to Flanagan, Illinois.
Enbridge executives have also proposed the installation of a “twin” pipeline running parallel to Line 61 through its Dumke Road pump station north of Portage, Wyocena and Columbus before reaching Dane County, which would carry an estimated 800,000 barrels per day.
The Pipeline Fighters’ Benefit Extravaganza is scheduled to begin Saturday at 5 p.m. at the Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center, though doors open at 10 a.m.
“In the morning we’re having an art-build, which is something that we’ve done before,” said Peterson. “A lot of our events are supported by colorful signs and props and things like that, so people will be coming in around 10 o’clock to work on projects and putting together new ones.”
In the evening the event will get up to speed with an opening ceremony, led by 350-Madison Co-Coordinator Phyllis Hasbrouck, with dinner featuring foods potentially at risk by environmental damage by the pipeline’s development, leading up to a handful of musical acts.
The meal part of the night can feed the first 100 people, Peterson explained, although he said they are shooting to see around 150 visitors through the night, with capacity around 200.
The landowners at the center of the event, who live near the current Line 61 in the area of Marshall, are plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Enbridge for its failure to carry insurance protecting against potential environmental damage in the event of a spill.
Enbridge carries standard business insurance, according to Peter Anderson, a member of 350 Madison and executive director of the Center for a Competitive Waste Industry, but that insurance does not cover liability specific to the environmental hazards of a potential oil spill.
To develop the pipeline, Enbridge has negotiated approval and licensing through each county the pipeline passes. The Dane County Board required that the company carry a $25 million insurance policy against a spill and consequential environmental damage.
Construction was approved by the Dane County Zoning and Land Regulation Committee with the stipulation requiring spill insurance in April 2015. Enbridge appealed that decision the following May. In July, the state Legislature passed a bill banning any such insurance requirements.
The legislation voiding the insurance requirements of Enbridge’s permit were so specific, according Anderson, to only be applicable to one company.
“It’s a tricky thing to do,” said Anderson. “They don’t have to carte-blance the whole thing and that led them to some language in order to avoid some constitutional challenge —and that’s where they screwed up.”
In just over a month, Anderson expects that argument briefs will be due for the appeal process with the court deciding in the fall.
The Columbia County Department of Planning and Zoning has not received any requests for development by Enbridge since 2014.
“The goal is to network, have fun, AND to raise money,” Anderson said of Saturday’s event. “Legal costs can be quite substantial and we have a lot of big help from pro-bono attorneys, but there is a lot of cost and a lot of time going on. There’s going to be a lot of these legal costs and quite possibly civil disobedience.”
The organized effort against development of the pipeline has, like protests elsewhere, brought together a diverse coalition, in the case of Wisconsin, involving the Sierra Club and self-described progressive organizations and typically conservative farmers.
Among the varied reasons for being involved in the cause, Anderson describes the highest stakes of any challenge Wisconsinites have had as citizens or us as a species.
“You recognize mortality and you see yourself and your future in your kids, and the idea of giving a world that is not a livable world—that’s just anathema,” he said. “The tragedy is that we as people have been trained to respond to threats like a lion jumping on a caveman. We don’t have a system to respond to react to a future crisis.”
Without diminishing the gravity of the situation, Peterson explained, goals for the day would be balanced out: “It’s important that people come and learn about the issues and figure out how they can help, but it’s also important that we have fun and celebrate some of our victories—solidarity and fun.”