PUC permits did nothing to hold the company accountable
When the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approved the new and expanded Enbridge Line 3 pipeline in 2018, it let the company skate on its responsibility to clean up the old and deteriorating pipeline it was replacing.
It was going to cost Enbridge $1.2 billion to remove the old pipeline and do the necessary restoration work. It was a price the company did not want to pay.
Instead, Enbridge proposed abandoning the old Line 3 in the ground, widening its existing right-of-way, clear cutting more trees, and installing a new Line 3 in a brand new trench.
Line 3 critics opposed the proposal. At a basic level, they said Enbridge should follow the First Rule of Kindergarten: Clean up your old mess before making a new one. Further, if the PUC was as focused on job creation as it seems, requiring Enbridge to remove the old pipeline would create 50 percent of the jobs as the new Line 3 construction work.
Instead, Enbridge proposed the Landowner Choice Program, which would give property owners the choice between 1) having the old pipeline removed or 2) taking a one-time payment to leave it in the ground. (Essentially, it incentivized landowners to take a short-term gain and pass the pipeline problem to future owners.)
As it did on most issues, the PUC sided with Enbridge. It approved Line 3 permits with the understanding that Enbridge could file the details of the Landowner Choice Program later. The PUC included no accountability measures or sanctions in the Line 3 Certificate of Need should the company fail to live up to its promises.
Landowners are now saying Enbridge is shirking on its obligations and petitioning the PUC for help.
It’s just the latest example of the state’s flawed regulatory system that seems to favor corporations over residents. Specifically, it raises questions about why the PUC is so chummy and trusting with Enbridge.
Enbridge has not only been disrespectful of Indigenous treaty rights, but also the promises it made to landowners of any race or background who own land along the line.
Attorney Evan G. Carlson filed a complaint April 28 with the PUC, saying “Enbridge has demonstrated a pattern of withholding information or misinforming landowners regarding their right to decide to decommission in place or physically remove.”
According to the complaint:
The Landowner Choice Program is new. Landowners are unfamiliar with it. Thorough their prior course of dealings with landowners, Enbridge has had the power of eminent domain. The Landowner Choice Program is different. It is crucial that landowners understand their rights as promised by Enbridge and incorporated into the Certificate of Need by the Commission.Complaint filed with the PUC
First, the complaint says Enbridge failed to inform landowners that an independent third-party engineer was available to them at Enbridge’s expense, as required by the Certificate of Need and compliance filings.
According to the Complaint:
On July 16, 2019, Enbridge submitted to the PUC its proposed “Introductory Letter to landowners.” “That letter contained a question-and-answer section explaining that the third-party engineer is available to landowners to help them make a decision…”
The letter Enbridge would later send to landowners dropped that disclosure, and instead buried the information an obscure place in a flyer it send out on pipeline removal. (Enbridge submitted this new letter to the PUC in an updated compliance filing. Apparently, the PUC didn’t see a problem.)
The complaint also said “some landowners may have agreed to deactivate in place before the independent third-party engineer and liaison were even appointed. They could not have made an informed decision.”
Second, Enbridge had agreed that landowners could negotiate the price to leave the pipeline in the ground.
Instead, the letter it sent to landowners “suggests Enbridge has arrived at a rate for deactivation in place and that is the rate at which the landowner will be paid.”
Finally, Enbridge was supposed to offer landowners company-paid mediation if needed. It failed to do so. “Landowners cannot access independent mediation if they are not aware that they are entitled to it. Nor are they likely to seek help if they do not know that the help is at Enbridge’s expense.”
As a quasi-judicial body, neither PUC staff or commissioners will answers questions from the public about the Landowner Choice Program of any other problems, speaking only through PUC orders.
Carlson didn’t say how many landowners he was working for, other than to say he has “miles of clients.”
He expects the PUC to hear the complaint in the next month or two.