It was a last-minute decision with no deliberation
Police and sheriff’s offices should be free of outside influences and treat citizens without prejudice.
The state-approved plan that allowed Enbridge to reimburse local law enforcement to provide security for the Line 3 pipeline project undermined that impartiality. The issue has received growing attention; ABC recently ran an article giving it more national exposure.
Many see the funding plan as a conflict of interest. These payouts biased law enforcement in favor of Enbridge and against Indigenous water protectors and their allies. As of early October, the escrow account had doled out $3 million to public safety agencies. More invoices are coming. Some sheriffs offices even billed for routine patrols of Enbridge worksites.
How did this scheme get approved in the first place?
It turns out this was a last-minute, slap-dash decision by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC), one that didn’t give intervenors or the public the opportunity to critique or oppose it.
For perspective, Enbridge submitted its initial Line 3 applications to the PUC on April 24, 2015. That began a three-year process of meetings, testimony, legal proceedings, and more. The PUC deliberated on four days in June, 2018 prior to its final vote approving the project.
The proposal to have Enbridge reimburse law enforcement for Line 3-related expenses first surfaced late on June 27, 2018, the second to last day of PUC deliberations. It came up six hours and 42 minutes into a nearly eight-hour PUC meeting. Commissioners were tired.
Commissioner John Tuma was the driving force. Local units of government worried about being overwhelmed by the costs of responding to Line 3 resistance, as what happened at Standing Rock, he said. “I don’t want to be caught flat footed like they were in North Dakota.”
In explaining his plan, Tuma said: “This whole idea came to me thanks to Enbridge.”
An Enbridge blogger wrote about how Line 3 would create twice as many construction jobs as the U.S. Bank (Vikings) stadium. The blog included an article about how the city of Minneapolis was seeking reimbursement for police services provided for the Super Bowl.
These kinds of law enforcement reimbursements were nothing new, Tuma said.
“Counties do this all the time,” he said. “We had a crisis in Rice County where a local land owner decided it was good to have keggers and rock concerts on his property and people were parking up and down the streets,” he said.
The county added a conditional use permit requiring the land owner to have police security for these events and to pay for it, Tuma said.
Comment: These aren’t good comparisons. The law enforcement presence at the Super Bowl and the rock concerts lasted a few days. Line 3 construction lasted nine months. There wasn’t a large organized resistance to the Super Bowl or the concerts and the related civil rights issues. On Line 3, law enforcement was collaborating with Enbridge and its security team in ways that didn’t occur in the examples Tuma cited.
Tuma offered a second justification to support his proposal, a letter by Julie Ring, the head of the Minnesota Association of Counties, published in the Duluth News Tribune in May of that year.
Tuma was effusive in praising Ring, calling her a “wonderful individual” who does “an amazing job as a public servant.”
The letter, which Ring also sent to the PUC, asked state officials and lawmakers “to consider a process for reimbursement of costs associated with keeping order at pipeline protests,” the news account said.
Comment: The PUC is a quasi-judicial body, acting like a court. Neither Ring nor the Association of Minnesota Counties were parties to the case. Her letter to the PUC was sent after the public record closed. It shouldn’t have had any weight in these deliberations. It seemed odd that Tuma was offering a character reference for Ring. It’s not the kind of thing you see judicial proceedings. It also seemed odd that in the middle of this case Tuma would be reading Enbridge bloggers.
Tuma spoke to the importance of an independent third-party review of law enforcement’s reimbursement requests. For instance, they shouldn’t be able to bill for water cannons like those used at Standing Rock, he said.
Tuma then became a character witness for Doug Swanson, an Enbridge lobbyist. Swanson would never abide working for a company that would use water cannons against protesters, Tuma said.
“I know you Mr. Swanson and I know your style of lobbying and how you work with people,” Tuma said. “I know you would never work for someone who would call for that in our state.”
Comment: Enbridge was a co-owner of the Dakota Access Pipeline at the time water cannons were used against water protectors at Standing Rock.
Tuma’s spoke for 11 minutes. Then he called on Swanson to comment. They seemed to have a chummy relationship.
“We really appreciate the passion you have for this, Commissioner Tuma,” Swanson said. “I don’t see anything you’ve said that should be a problem.”
Intervenors opposed to Line 3 seemed caught off guard by Tuma’s proposal and did have problems with it. They, too, wanted a chance to speak.
Tuma seemed paternalistic and disrespectful in recognizing Honor the Earth attorney Paul Blackburn, who had been raising his hand.
“Mr. Blackburn has something to say,” Tuma said. “I don’t want his bicep to burst. I will give him a chance to enter in.”
Blackburn simply asked that Honor the Earth co-founder Winona LaDuke be allowed to speak.
Here are extended excerpts from LaDuke’s four-minute speech:
I am under great duress listening to this discussion. I was a woman who was at Standing Rock. I was not shot. I was not arrested. But my family was shot. My family was arrest. And when they put the dogs on us on Sept. 4, that was after Enbridge had purchased 28 percent of the Dakota Access Pipeline. I called Enbridge. I called their community relations officer. I asked them to pull off the dogs. I asked them to demilitarize the situation. …
I asked them to use their Aboriginal People’s Policy which they have been talking about. And I asked them to complete a full consultation process and I asked them to demilitarize the situation. I got no response from Enbridge. We have no confidence in this. All we have is experience being shot at. All we have is experience being arrested. …
The proposals that you are discussing here would put the citizens of Minnesota at great risk. I find that of deep concern that you would be talking about how many police you will have, how to insure that there is enough riot gear, how to ensure there are enough large weapons to be used against us and how that is going to be financed. I do not see any other message that is coming out of the commission. …
I know you don’t want to be North Dakota. The only way you are not North Dakota is to not sell us out to a Canadian pipeline corporation.Winona LaDuke
Tuma said he viewed LaDuke as “one of the great prophets of Northern Minnesota, Minnesota, and the United States.” He was “100 percent” behind her, he said, an empty statement given he didn’t change his proposal based on her comments.
That was the extent of the debate regarding law enforcement reimbursements for Line 3 work. No other commissioner asked a question or made a comment.
The PUC convened the following day, June 28 for the final vote on permits and conditions. At the tail end of the meeting, Tuma took a minute and a half to explain the proposal again. It was approved with no discussion.
Tuma again emphasized the arms-length transaction, that a independent third-party liaison would be appointed to approve law enforcement reimbursements.
Comment: Local law enforcement leaders worried about this independent liaison. Would this person understand policing when reviewing their requests? The Intercept obtained an email chain among local law enforcement heads discussing this concern. It included the following:
Enbridge offered reassurances, according to other police on the email chain. “I had a discussion with Troy Kirby (Enbridge Chief of Security) this morning, and expressed concern over that position and the escrow account,” Aitkin County Sheriff Daniel Guida replied. “He indicated they have some influence on the hiring of that positon [sic] and he would be involved to ensure we are taken care of, one way or another.”The Intercept
Such a promise no doubt further cemented the bond between Enbridge and local law enforcement.