Pipeline Companies Shouldn’t Have to Pay for the Costs of Protests Against Them


Over in Minnesota the opponents of Enbridge’s Line 3 Replacement project have promised protests akin to what we here in North Dakota saw against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

If that’s true, what Minnesotans will suffer is violence and vandalism. That’s the legacy of the #NoDAPL movement. There is absolutely nothing wrong with peacefully assembling on public property, or private property with permission, to protest a pipeline. But in south central North Dakota a faction of political extremists showed up to attack pipeline workers and law enforcement officers.

Given that, I’m sympathetic to the concerns of the Association of Minnesota Counties who worry about the costs of that sort of activity. After all, here in North Dakota the protests ended up costing taxpayers over $38 million.

But the Association asking regulators presiding over the approval of Enbridge’s project to charge the company with the costs of protests against it is ridiculous:

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — County officials in northern Minnesota are worried about large-scale protests if Enbridge Energy gets approval to replace its Line 3 crude oil pipeline and have asked regulators to find a way to force the company to cover the costs to local governments.

Susan Morris, president of the Association of Minnesota Counties, made the request in a letter filed with the state Public Utilities Commission, which is expected to decide next month whether to approve the project and, if it’s approved, what route it should take across Minnesota. The letter, sent late last month, was posted on the PUC’s electronic docket Wednesday.

“Potential county expenses related to this project cannot be anticipated or budgeted because they are out of the ordinary for counties,” Morris wrote. “These may include law enforcement costs related to site security and crowd control in the event of protests, solid waste management issues, and costs related to county emergency management.”

Again, after seeing what happened here in North Dakota, I’m sympathetic to these concerns. But do we really want to start charging the victims of unlawful activity for the cost of law enforcement and state officials responding to that activity?

If someone breaks into your house, should you get a bill for the cops responding?

The costs of government officials responding to lawful, peaceful protests should fall to the taxpayers. The costs of unlawful, riotous, and even violent protests should fall to those organizing that activity if anyone.

What’s the alternative? Allowing political extremists to inflate the cost to private companies of building this sort of infrastructure?

Here in North Dakota the company which built the Dakota Access line, Energy Transfer Partners, gave the state $15 million to defray the bill related to protests response. I wrote at the time that it was a mistake. Something which would create the expectation that the energy industry foot the bill created by protesters in the future.

It seems that’s exactly what has happened.