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Thursday, September 12, 2019

Watchdog group reveals Enbridge influence campaign aimed at county officials fueled by oil money; UP Energy Task Force to meet in Hancock

The Michigan Association of Counties Facebook page proudly displays Enbridge's sponsorship. (Image courtesy Oil and Water Don't Mix.)  

By Michele Bourdieu, with information from Oil and Water Don't Mix

Michigan Campaign Finance Network report puts a spotlight on a wide-ranging campaign using money to win support for dangerous Line 5 oil pipelines and proposed tunnel.

A revealing new report by a respected, independent governmental watchdog organization documents how the Canadian oil transport giant Enbridge is buying influence with Michigan public officials as part of a multimillion-dollar media and lobbying campaign aimed at keeping its dangerous Line 5 oil pipelines in the Great Lakes and gaining approval for a proposed pipeline oil tunnel to possibly replace them.

The Michigan Campaign Finance Network in a new investigation found that, after Enbridge bought $63,000 in paid sponsorships and ads with the Michigan Association of Counties, the group pushed through a resolution backing Enbridge’s Line 5. Houghton County is among several Michigan counties that have already signed the resolution.

The counties’ group deployed its lobbyist to write pro-Line 5 resolutions for counties. Moreover, the watchdog group obtained an email from Enbridge lobbyist Deb Muchmore revealing Muchmore’s lobbying of an Oakland County commissioner, including providing "key messages" that have largely been debunked by the news media and other sources. That same document is also apparently being widely distributed to state lawmakers.

The report also raises questions about whether Grand Traverse County commissioners violated Michigan’s Open Meetings Act by discussing the Line 5 resolution privately through emails out of the public light.

The Michigan Anishinaabek Caucus, which opposes Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline and proposed tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac, posted on their Facebook page a corrected version of the Line 5 resolution signed by the Grand Traverse County commissioners. It sheds a light on documented facts that may be unknown to many public officials. (To access this corrected version of the resolution visit the Michigan Anishinaabek Caucus Facebook page and click on files.)

Houghton County Republican Commissioners vote for Line 5 Resolution 

In Houghton County, the resolution was added to the July 9, 2019, agenda during the meeting. It was not included in the agenda posted for the public and commissioners before the meeting and was not mentioned in the packet of information given to the commissioners for the meeting.

During their July 9, 2019, meeting, Houghton County Commissioners voted 3 (Republicans) to 2 (Democrats) to sign the Enbridge Resolution of support for Line 5 and the proposed tunnel.

According to the minutes of the July 9, 2019, meeting of the Houghton County Board of Commissioners, "A Motion was made by Chairman Koskela seconded by Commissioner Britz to adopt the Resolution for Line 5. Commissioner Anderson expressed concerns and wanted to hear what the State intends to do regarding this matter. Commissioner Janssen stated she wanted more information on this matter. The Motion carried by the following vote: YES:  Koskela, Britz, Tikkanen 3. NO: Anderson, Janssen 2."

Commissioner Gretchen Janssen told Keweenaw Now she voted no because she wasn't prepared to make an educated response at the time of the meeting.

"I now understand the benefits of Line 5 but believe the environmental impact if the line broke is far greater than the benefits of the line," Janssen said. "I would still say no to that resolution. Also, I don’t like being an elected official being asked to endorse a company. It just seems inappropriate to me."

Commissioner Glenn Anderson said he voted no on the Resolution and, at the time, said why he did.

"I said any action on line 5 was premature while we are waiting for Governor Whitmer's Up Energy Task Force, which has been directed by March 31st (2020) to identify cost effective propane sources to replace the estimated 35 million gallons of annual propane that comes to the UP via line 5," Anderson told Keweenaw Now.

UP Energy Task Force to hold public meeting in Hancock Sept. 20

In fact, Governor Whitmer's Up Energy Task Force is scheduled for a series of public meetings on the Line 5/propane issues, and their next meeting will be in Hancock at Finlandia University's Jutila Center.

The meeting will be held from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, in the Leroy Keranen Conference Room 323 of the Jutila Center, 200 Michigan St., Hancock.

The meeting will include a presentation, a lunch break, and an opportunity for the public to make comments from 2:30 p.m. to 4:15 p.m.

The UP Energy Task Force was created by Executive Order No. 2019-14. The charge to the Task Force according to section 2(a) of the Executive Order is to do the following:
  • Assess the UP’s overall energy needs and how they are currently being met.
  • Formulate alternative solutions for meeting the UP’s energy needs, with a focus on security, reliability, affordability, and environmental soundness. This shall include, but is not limited to, alternative means to supply the energy sources currently used by UP residents, and alternatives to those energy sources.
  • Identify and evaluate potential changes that could occur to energy supply and distribution in the UP; the economic, environmental, and other impacts of such changes; and the alternatives for meeting the UP’s energy needs in response to such changes.*
The Task Force's first report, due March 31, 2020, is to be focused on alternative means to supply propane to the UP consistent with section 2(a) of the Executive Order. The Task Force is required to submit the remainder of its report, also consistent with section 2(a), by March 31, 2021.

Written comments regarding the work of the UP Energy Task Force can also be submitted via email to EGLE-UPEnergy@Michigan.gov and will be shared with all UP Energy Task Force members. Comments submitted will become part of the public record and subject to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

Enbridge pumps money into media ads, lobbying for Michigan and Minnesota pipelines

Enbridge’s wide-ranging campaign to persuade Michigan to keep Line 5 pumping oil through the Straits of Mackinac has seen the Canadian corporation and its partners pumping money into print, online, and radio ads in virtually every media market and sponsorships of public radio stations, who in exchange for Enbridge’s money repeat Enbridge’s messages, often multiple times a day. For the first seven months this year, Enbridge spent $105,728 on lobbying, more than the entirety of 2018, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

Enbridge’s intensive spending in Michigan on paid lobbying and media ads this year mirrors a similar oil pipeline campaign in Minnesota where the Canadian company has spent $13 million trying to force governmental approval of a pipeline there. It follows the action by Enbridge last year to funnel more than $126,000 into a Michigan Chamber of Commerce PAC that unsuccessfully challenged the Voters Not Politicians redistricting reform measure passed overwhelmingly by voters.

"Enbridge is purchasing influence and political support in Michigan, plain and simple, and they are poisoning our politics along with our Great Lakes environment," said Sean McBrearty, Oil and Water Don’t Mix coordinator. "Our elected representatives are supposed to represent the people. We can’t trust them to do that when they are financially beholden to Enbridge and their oil and gas industry allies."**

Editor's Notes:

* See our June 10, 2019, article, "Gov. Whitmer signs executive order creating UP Energy Task Force."

** Thanks to Oil and Water Don't Mix for information about the Michigan Campaign Finance Network investigation. You can learn more about Line 5 and sign a petition against Enbridge's tunnel project here.