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Phyllis Hasbrouck: PSC appointment shows promise for Wisconsin's energy future

Phyllis Hasbrouck: PSC appointment shows promise for Wisconsin's energy future

Enbridge hires companies to design, build Great Lakes tunnel (copy)

FILE - In this Thursday, July 6, 2017, file photo, Lauren Sargent, of Ann Arbor, Mich., takes part in a protest before the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline public information session at Holt High School in Holt, Mich. Enbridge Inc. said Friday, March 6, 2020, it has hired companies to design and build a disputed oil pipeline tunnel beneath the channel linking Lakes Huron and Michigan, despite pending legal challenges. (Cory Morse/The Grand Rapids Press via AP, File)

I am delighted to hear of Tyler Huebner’s appointment to the state Public Service Commission. By appointing a clean energy advocate to the commission charged with deciding whether new oil pipelines are “in the public interest,” Gov. Tony Evers is showing that he understands that Wisconsin’s energy future will not be like its past.

To quote his other PSC appointee, Chairwoman Rebecca Valcq, we are in a “time of swift transition in the energy sector.” To make the changes that our climate needs to heal, we cannot permit any more fossil fuel infrastructure projects to be built in Wisconsin. Instead of approving more oil pipelines that are a proven danger to the lakes, rivers and streams that Wisconsinites value so highly, we need the PSC to facilitate more renewable energy and community-based distributed energy.

Currently, the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa are suing to make the Canadian pipeline company Enbridge take its 66-year old pipeline out of the tribe’s reservation. They know that a rupture could contaminate the Bad River, its wild rice beds and Lake Superior. Knowing that it will probably lose the case, Enbridge seeks a reroute around the reservation, and so it has applied to the PSC for a permit to use the power of eminent domain to take land and/or easements from unwilling landowners.

To grant that permit, the PSC would have to conclude that the resulting new stretch of pipeline would be “in the public interest.” This is an area of abundant wetlands, streams and rivers filled with healthy fish and wild rice, an area dependent on tourism at sites like Copper Falls State Park (which would be instantly contaminated by a rupture at Mellen, where the reroute corridor crosses the Bad River), an area cherished by its indigenous and non-indigenous inhabitants for its beauty and healthy ecosystems. All of these things would be devastated by a spill, and a 2019 Greenpeace study showed that an Enbridge pipeline spills or ruptures on the average every 20 days.

And what would a new oil pipeline mean for our climate? According to the latest study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we have only 10 years to make huge strides in converting to a 100% renewable energy system. So Gov. Evers’ goal of making the state’s electricity supply carbon-free by 2050 needs to be scaled up to making all of our energy consumption carbon free by 2030. To approve a new section of an oil pipeline would be disastrous — propping up an out-of-date, polluting model of energy use that is causing the ever-increasing flooding that is such a hardship for farmers and for all of us.

Lastly, were the PSC to grant Enbridge, a for-profit company, the right to seize land or easements for its reroute, it would be a slap in the face to all Wisconsin landowners and our 5th Amendment right to private property that the U.S. and Wisconsin Constitutions guarantee us.

Clearly, this Line 5 Reroute would not be in the public interest. We hope the PSC will resist all calls for an approach that would enable pollution, contamination of our Great Lakes and climate chaos.

Phyllis Hasbrouck is an organizer with the Wisconsin Safe Energy Alliance.

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