Enbridge poured $5 million into lobbying for Line 3, outspending all others

Enbridge Line 3 supporters attend a public hearing in St. Paul last year.
Enbridge Line 3 supporters attend a public hearing in St. Paul last year.
Maria Alejandra Cardona | MPR News file

Canadian oil pipeline company Enbridge Energy Partners spent more than $5 million lobbying state officials in 2017 — more than twice the next largest lobbying interest — and the most any interest has spent on lobbying in Minnesota since at least 2007.

That's one of the biggest takeaways from a new report released Tuesday by the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, which outlined about $74 million in spending on lobbying last year.

All but $260,000 was spent lobbying the Public Utilities Commission, or PUC, which is considering Enbridge's proposal to replace it's aging Line 3 pipeline along a new route across northern Minnesota.

In total, $9.85 million was spent to influence the PUC in cases of rate setting, the siting of power plants and other energy infrastructure, and granting of certificates of need for projects like oil and gas pipelines, according to the Board.

That's the highest amount ever reported to the Board for lobbying the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.

"Our 2017 lobbying expenses have increased largely due to the intensity of the regulatory process for the Line 3 replacement project," Enbridge spokesperson Shannon Gustafson said.

Line 3 carries 390,000 barrels of crude oil a day from Canada across northern Minnesota. But the line, built in the 1960s, is corroding, and requires extensive maintenance to operate safely.

A new pipe would allow Enbridge to boost capacity up to 780,000 barrels a day. The company has proposed a different route for the proposed line, which has met growing opposition from conservation groups, citizen organizations and tribal members concerned about potential spills in the lakes and rivers of northern Minnesota, as well as climate change impacts.

Hundreds gathered at the Capitol to protest the Enbridge pipeline.
Hundreds gathered at the Capitol last year to protest the Enbridge pipeline.
Maria Alejandra Cardona | MPR News file

Most of the $5.34 million Enbridge spent wasn't on "traditional government relations activities," Gustafson said. That accounted for less than 5 percent of the lobbying total.

Rather, the money paid for legal representation, participation in 40 public hearings, three weeks of evidentiary hearings before an administrative law judge, and multiple appearances in front of the PUC, Gustafson said.

Another group supporting the pipeline project, Shippers for Secure, Reliable & Economical Petroleum Transportation, spent $200,000 lobbying the Public Utilities Commission, the fifth-highest amount.

In contrast, groups opposing the Line 3 project spent far less.

The Sierra Club reported spending $140,000 on lobbying, including $100,000 at the Public Utilities Commission, although the group worked on other issues before the PUC in addition to Line 3.

Friends of the Headwaters, a volunteer group that formed in opposition to a previous Enbridge pipeline proposal dubbed Sandpiper, reported spending $54,000. President Richard Smith said the money paid for the organization's legal representation before the PUC and administrative law judge.

"Money talks, but despite being outspent 100-1, the truth speaks louder," Smith said.

Another group opposing Line 3, MN350, spent $20,000.

The amount of money Enbridge has spent before the Public Utilities Commission has soared in recent years, as opposition has grown to oil pipeline projects that as recently as a decade ago were typically approved with little fanfare.

In 2008, when Minnesota approved the construction of a new oil pipeline from Canada called the Alberta Clipper, Enbridge spent $600,000 on lobbying. By 2014, when Enbridge expanded that line, and proposed the Sandpiper from North Dakota, spending had grown to more than $1 million, and it has stayed above that threshold ever since.