Enbridge Energy Partners spent just over $11 million lobbying Minnesota state government in 2018 — almost all of it advocating before the Public Utilities Commission — according to data released this week by the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board.
Enbridge also topped the list last year, when it spent $5.3 million.
For the past several years Enbridge has advocated before the PUC for the highly contentious Line 3 oil pipeline, a $2.6 billion project to replace a corroding pipeline across northern Minnesota with a larger pipe along a different route. The commission approved the project last summer.
Many of the other largest spenders were also energy companies and utilities that advocated before the PUC, including Xcel Energy, CenterPoint Energy and Freeborn Wind Energy.
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Altogether, those companies, along with unions, nonprofits and other groups, spent more than $15 million on legal fees and other expenses at the Public Utilities Commission.
Other big lobbyists were the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, which spent nearly $2.2 million; the Minnesota Business Partnership, which tallied $1.2 million in lobbying expenses, and the League of Minnesota Cities, which spent just over $700,000.
But their spending was dwarfed by Enbridge, which on its own made up about one seventh of the $77 million spent on lobbying in Minnesota last year.
Under Minnesota law, legal representation and other work before the Public Utilities Commission are considered lobbying expenses.
Critics of Enbridge and Line 3 decried the spending.
"Enbridge has poured a lot of money into greasing the wheels to get this project approved," said Mysti Babineau, organizer with the environmental group MN350. "The reason they have to spend that kind of money is because they're facing such strong opposition from across Minnesota."
Enbridge spokesperson Juli Kellner countered that the spending was required to present the facts about Line 3 to state agencies, "and to give voice to the thousands of women and men across Minnesota who support the replacement of Line 3."
Among opponents of Line 3, Friends of the Headwaters spent the most advocating in front of the PUC, reporting lobbying expenses of $123,000. MN350 Action spent $20,000.