A group of landowners who live within 350 yards of a pipeline that will transport Canadian tar sands oil through Wisconsin to refineries in Illinois is suing the pipeline’s owner to force it to carry spill insurance.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in Dane County Circuit Court, states that even though the state Legislature included language in the 2015-17 state budget barring counties from imposing spill insurance requirements, the law still allows concerned citizens to demand that a court enforce the county’s zoning regulations.
“Today, seven citizens stood up and made that demand,” 350 Madison Climate Action Team wrote in a news release announcing the lawsuit.
According to the lawsuit, the statute was not made retroactive, leaving intact a condition included in a county conditional-use permit that requires Canadian oil pipeline company Enbridge to carry $25 million in an Environmental Impairment Liability Policy. The county can’t enforce the provision itself, the lawsuit states, but the law allows property owners in the same zoning district to do so.
The lawsuit states that the product to be carried by the pipeline, bitumen, is far more corrosive to pipes than standard crude, making it more dangerous to carry, and it is more “challenging and expensive” to clean up, should it spill due to a pipeline failure.
And should the pipe break, the lawsuit states, the pressure inside the pipe would result in the release of more than 2 million gallons of oil per hour until the pipeline is closed down.
The lawsuit states Enbridge was responsible for one of the worst inland oil spills in U.S. history, into a Kalamazoo River tributary in Michigan. That pipeline leaked oil for 17 hours and caused $1.2 billion in damage, the lawsuit says.
The Dane County Board has granted Enbridge a conditional-use permit to expand an existing pumping station for the pipeline in the town of Medina, in northeastern Dane County.
Last month, Enbridge sued Dane County over the inclusion of the insurance requirement, saying it was imposed “solely for political purposes” by County Board members who oppose the expansion of Enbridge’s Line 61. The company said that removal of the permit requirement is necessary, even though state law bars the requirement, to protect Enbridge from future violations of its conditional-use permit.
The landowners’ lawsuit states that the change in state law was made at the behest of lobbyists for Enbridge.
The plaintiffs in the case include Robert and Heidi Campbell of Waterloo, Keith and Trisha Reopelle of Marshall, James and Jan Holmes of Marshall and Tim Jensen of Waterloo. Keith Reopelle is also senior policy director for the environmental group Clean Wisconsin.
Enbridge spokeswoman Jennifer Smith told the Associated Press Tuesday night the company is aware the complaint has been filed but has yet to see it.