Wisconsin Supreme Court Sides with Enbridge, WMC

June 28, 2019

by Matthew Rothschild, Executive Director

The conservatives on the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Enbridge pipeline company in a case that highlights how powerful corporate interests prevail in Wisconsin – and how bankrupt our high court is in Wisconsin.

The case is called Enbridge Energy Co., Inc., v. Dane County.

Here’s the background. In 2015, Dane County required Enbridge to get an extra $25 million liability insurance policy in exchange for a permit to build a pump station that would expand the amount of oil the company pumps through its pipeline that runs through the northeast corner of the county.

A few months later, the Republican-dominated Joint Finance Committee pushed through a provision in the budget that said local governments can’t do that if a company already carried general liability insurance coverage for “sudden and accidental” spills.

Enbridge sued Dane County to strip the requirement from the permit.

Meanwhile, several Dane County property owners filed suit alleging that Enbridge was violating the requirements of the new state law and arguing that Dane County’s permit should be enforceable.

Last May, the 4th District Court of Appeals unanimously ruled against Enbridge, concluding that “Enbridge failed to demonstrate at any time that it carried sudden and accidental pollution liability.”

Enbridge appealed, and the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in Enbridge’s favor, overturning the appellate court’s decision.

As dissenting justice Ann Walsh Bradley noted, the Wisconsin Supreme Court did so even though Enbridge failed to demonstrate that it carries insurance for sudden and accidental insurance, as required by statute. She added that the conservative majority made an “absurd” argument that claimed that the company needed to “carry” such insurance only on the very day that the company signed the permit.

The biggest lobbyist in the state, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, filed an amicus brief supporting Enbridge. That brief claimed that local governments have been “unlawfully attempting to expand their authority to eviscerate private property rights.”

WMC, by the way, has also spent millions of dollars over the last 10 years to help elect conservative justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Not surprisingly, then, WMC thanked the conservative justices on the Court for siding with Enbridge. “WMC applauds the court for ruling in Enbridge’s favor and letting businesses throughout Wisconsin know that local governments will be held accountable when they break the law,” the group said in a press release.