Wednesday, July 11, 2018

New report probes conflicts of interest in Line 5 evaluation

Posted By on Wed, Jul 11, 2018 at 1:02 PM

click to enlarge In 2013, the National Wildlife Federation sent divers to look at Enbridge, Inc.'s aging straits pipelines, finding wide spans of unsupported structures encrusted with exotic zebra mussels and quagga mussels. - NATIONAL WILDLIFE FEDERATION
  • National Wildlife Federation
  • In 2013, the National Wildlife Federation sent divers to look at Enbridge, Inc.'s aging straits pipelines, finding wide spans of unsupported structures encrusted with exotic zebra mussels and quagga mussels.

When it comes to Enbridge Energy's relationship with Michigan's government, it looks like things are muckier than the oil the company spilled in the Kalamazoo River in 2010.

It's the company's spotty track record, in part, that has led to a call to reevaluate and possibly decommission its Line 5 pipeline, which is situated at the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac. And though Gov. Rick Snyder has come down hard on the company in recent months over Line 5's safety, a joint investigation from Bridge Magazine and the Michigan Campaign Finance Network shows Enbridge and the state's government have a relationship that appears to be far too chummy for some.

Based on a two-month review of more than 5,700 documents, including internal emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, Enbridge and the government department that is supposed to be monitoring it appeared to have a very friendly relationship. Among the most damning findings was an email showing a high-ranking state official sharing details for a press release about new safeguards for the pipeline with an Enbridge lobbyist before it was issued.

Another strange episode reportedly occurred when Valerie Brader, an energy director and co-chair of a Pipeline Safety Advisory Board, announced she was resigning from the department in January to join a lobbying firm. Heidi Grether, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality director who previously served as the top publicist for BP during its massive Deepwater Horizon spill, responded, "Can we be your first client?" in an apparent joke. However, it turned out to be not far-fetched enough to be funny: In April, Brader's firm signed a contract with the state to advise on Line 5 for $375 an hour.

The state admitted to conflicts of interest last June, when it terminated its contract with Det Norske Veritas, Inc., a firm tasked with conducting a risk analysis of the pipeline. The state made the move after it was revealed that an employee who had worked on the risk analysis later worked on another project for Enbridge — a violation of the contract's conflict of interest prohibitions. The risk analysis concluded that Line 5, which has been in operation since 1953, could operate indefinitely. The state scrapped the report.

Per the encouragement of the state, Enbridge is looking at moving the pipeline from along the bottom of the straits to a tunnel located under the straits. An announcement on the pipeline's fate is expected next month.

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