By IVAN MORENO
MILWAUKEE (AP) — The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that the Canadian company Enbridge Energy doesn’t need to carry additional insurance for a pipeline project in Dane County, despite the local government’s insistence that it do so lest there be an accidental spill.
Dane County officials made a $25 million environmental-liability policy a requirement for Enbridge’s permit for a project to triple the flow of crude oil from its Line 61 pipeline, a change that would take the volume moved up to 1.2 million barrels a day. The pipeline runs from northern Wisconsin to Illinois.
The Court’s conservative majority ruled 4-1 in favor of Enbridge; the two liberal justices on the court abstained.
Dane County approved the permit in 2015 with the insurance requirement. In asking for additional insurance, Dane County officials cited an Enbridge oil spill that occurred in 2010 in Michigan. That accident cost $1.2 billion to clean up and has resulted in ongoing insurance litigation.
Enbridge appealed, but Wisconsin lawmakers intervened before the company’s challenge was decided, passing a last-minute provision in the state budget that blocked municipalities from imposing additional liability requirements when a pipeline operator already carries comprehensive insurance.
Dane County required the extra insurance anyway, prompting Enbridge to appeal at the circuit court level. Enbridge won there only to see an appeals courts later decide it hadn’t proved in the first place that it carried enough insurance.
The high court reversed that decision on Thursday, writing that Enbridge indeed did have sufficient insurance.
“Enbridge is pleased with the decision of the Supreme Court to uphold the Dane County Circuit Court’s decision to strike unenforceable insurance requirements from the (conditional use permit),” said the Enbridge spokeswoman Jennifer Smith in a statement.
While the court battle was proceeding, Enbridge finished making $1.5 billion worth of improvements to its pipeline and built a needed pumping station.
“The Waterloo pump station is critical infrastructure for the state of Wisconsin and for the region, helping to ensure a reliable source of energy for decades to come,” Smith said.
An attorney for Dane County, and a lawyer representing landowners involved in the case, did not immediately respond to the ruling.
In deciding in favor of Enbridge, the conservative justices concluded that lawmakers “rendered Dane County’s extra insurance conditions unenforceable, and the proper remedy is to strike the illegal conditions.”
Dissenting from the majority, Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, echoing arguments made by landowners and the county, said that Enbridge has never shown that it’s carrying the amount or type of insurance that would make what the county is asking for moot.
“In sum, I determine that Enbridge did not demonstrate that it ‘carries’ insurance that includes ‘sudden and accidental’ coverage.”
Enbridge has disputed that claim.