By Winona LaDuke
In its boldest move yet, Enbridge the Canadian pipeline company is going to try and take the governorship of Wisconsin. That’s to say that Enbridge is hoping Tim Michels, one of their largest contractors, wins a bid for Governor against incumbent Tony Evers. That’s their Line 5 short game. Tim Michels has no political experience, but money he does have; that’s $17 million of his own money, much of which he earned by providing contracts to Enbridge. He entered the race late this spring and won the GOP’s endorsement with a nod from Donald Trump and a lot of friends at Enbridge. Michels previously lost two bids for Senate in Wisconsin, but with his own hard-earned money, he is putting on a “show of force”.
This is not about democracy and governance; this is about Line 5. Michels stands to benefit heartily if Enbridge’s Line 5 goes ahead, and the pipeline is facing daunting obstacles.
Here’s Enbridge’s biggest problem: Bad River Anishinaabe. The caretakers of the legendary Kakagon Sloughs, the wild rice mother lode on Lake Superior, Bad River has been asking Enbridge to remove a 69-year-old Line 5 pipe which crosses thirteen miles of their reservation. Enbridge’s right of way, expired in 2013. The pipeline has become exposed during extreme weather and the Anishinaabe life is threatened. In turn, Enbridge has been hiring tribal members, aka “Indian Whisperers” to work through the Bad River community, and throughout Wisconsin, using the play book which did not work well in Minnesota. Deeply embedded, they recently lost a big court battle over the pipeline.
On September 8, US District Judge William Conley ruled that Enbridge trespassed on Bad River tribal lands and profited at the tribe’s expense. The judge stopped short of shutting down the pipeline across the reservation. The judge ruled Enbridge was unjustly enriched by continued operation of its Line 5 pipeline on the Bad River reservation, entitling the tribe to a monetary remedy based on the company’s profits. Even so, Conley denied the tribe’s request to immediately shut down the pipeline, saying it would have “significant public and foreign policy implications.” Trespass fines are expensive and would well amount to far more than any “bonuses” for signing forwarded by Enbridge.
To be clear 69-year-old Line 5 carries up to 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids daily. Line 5 spans 645 miles from Superior through northern Wisconsin and Michigan to Sarnia, Ontario, where Enbridge refines the oil, back in Canada. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer also has opposed the pipeline, which continues to operate under the Straits of Mackinac without a state permit.
In 2019, the tribe sued the Canadian energy firm in federal court to shut down and remove Line 5 from 12 parcels of tribal lands. In response, Enbridge counter sued, and is now proposing a $450 million plan to build a new line that would run 41 miles around the Bad River reservation. That route circles the reservation, literally, and crosses numerous rivers, waterways, all of which, would be significantly impacted by the pipeline and a spill. The new route is basically a noose around the Kakagon Sloughs and the reservation. It’s not being well received by Biden’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
This July, the EPA sent strong messages to Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the agency responsible for the proposed Enbridge permits. EPA’s Tribal Programs Office supervisor Jen Tyler said the DNR invited the federal agency to weigh in on its draft. “EPA continues to have concerns about potential significant impacts, particularly to waters that are essential to the exercise of tribal treaty rights and continuation of tribal traditional lifeways,” Tyler said.
It’s the end of the fossil fuels’ party and Enbridge wants to have the last “hurrah”. They are trying their best to make it hard to stop them. In 2019, Enbridge pushed through some new laws in Wisconsin which makes severe penalties for any opposition to the pipeline.
Wisconsin Act 33, echoes “critical infrastructure protection” model bills pushed out by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). That’s to say, when l000 of us were charged in Minnesota, most of us had misdemeanor charges, including myself, with charges in three counties. My charges (trespassing, obstructing) would be felony charges in Wisconsin.
Under the new law, peaceful protestors can now be charged with a felony punishable by up to six years in prison and a $10,000 fine if they trespass on property owned, leased, or operated by companies engaged in the distribution of oil or petroleum. That’s part of a national push by the fossil fuel companies to criminalize Water Protectors. And a push for the oil companies to just flat out own every part of the legal system. The Governorship of Wisconsin, however, is a pretty bold move.
There are a lot of agencies, tribal governments and Water Protectors who are going to do their best for the Fossil Fuel party to end early. With never ending droughts in Africa, the Loire River dry for the first time in written history, and millions of climate refugees, we need solutions, not profits for Canadian corporations.
We need real pipes; like maybe some water pipes as we see the crumbling infrastructure of this country, from Jackson Mississippi to Flint Michigan. It’s said that 50% of the water intended for households never gets there because of leaking pipes. How about pipes for people, not Canadian oil?
Decommissioning of Line 5 itself would be a boom for Wisconsin, at least $2 billion in jobs. In a time of climate chaos good pipes are important and oil is a risk. We will see how Enbridge, the Canadian multinational who controlled the police and regulatory systems of Minnesota, does in Wisconsin. November 8 is coming soon. We are watching.