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Indigenous band could have been more help, says judge in Wisconsin Line 5 dispute

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Fresh nuts, bolts and fittings are ready to be added to the east leg of the pipeline near St. Ignace as Enbridge prepares to test the east and west sides of the Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac in Mackinaw City, Mich. on June 8, 2017. North America’s existential debate about the virtues and dangers of oil and gas pipelines faces a critical test today in Wisconsin. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Detroit News, Dale G Young

By James McCarten in Washington

The Indigenous band in Wisconsin that’s trying to shut down the Line 5 pipeline got a chilly reception Thursday from a federal court judge who is dismayed they aren’t doing more to help Enbridge Inc. avoid an ecological disaster.

The Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa has asked district court Judge William Conley to order the pipeline shut down, fearing that heavy flooding last month could cause the line to spring a leak on their territory.

But from the outset of Thursday’s hearing, it was clear Conley — who ordered the two sides to work together last fall on finding a solution to their impasse — doesn’t believe the band is holding up its end of the bargain.

“The band has not helped itself by refusing to take any steps to prevent a catastrophic failure,” Conley said as the hearing got underway. “You haven’t even allowed simple steps that would have prevented some of this erosion.”

The day-long hearing ended without a decision on the band’s request for an injunction — and with the clear sense Conley is disinclined to grant one. “It’s an extraordinary request to make when the band is doing nothing,” he said.

But band lawyer Riyaz Kanji said he was pleased during an otherwise discouraging day that the judge gave indications he would establish a threshold for erosion damage that would trigger a shutdown.

“Unfortunately, from our point of view, he didn’t set that today — he’s not shutting it down,” Kanji said. “But we will remain hopeful that he will set a standard that will protect the river and its precious resources.”

Conley, who has already ruled that the band was entitled back in 2013 to revoke permission for the pipeline, was also unwilling to grant the injunction on the grounds that Enbridge no longer has the right to access the area.

“The harder thing to hear was that the judge appears unwilling … to issue an injunction because of Enbridge’s continuing trespass on the band’s lands,” Kanji said.

“It sounds like he’s thinking more in terms of financial penalties.”

In court documents, Enbridge has accused the band of being focused on a single outcome: the permanent closure of the pipeline on their territory “while refusing much less extreme alternative measures.”

The band argues that several weeks of flooding along the Bad River last month has washed away so much of the riverbank and supporting terrain that a breach is “imminent” and a shutdown order more than justified.

Enbridge insists the dangers are being overstated — and even if they were real, the company’s court-ordered contingency plan, which spells out the steps it would take, would be a far more rational solution.

“Enbridge will pre-emptively purge and shut down the line well in advance of any potential rupture,” the company says in its court brief, adding that the area remains under constant 24-hour video surveillance.

“Any flooding and erosion has not, and would not, catch Enbridge by surprise.”

But Enbridge has been rebuffed in its efforts to perform remedial work on the site, which would include using sandbacks and trees to fortify the riverbanks — a decision band chairman Mike Wiggins defended Thursday.

The band has the right under federal law to enforce its own water quality standards, which were “developed by careful evaluation of our relationships, as a people, with different parts of our hydrology in the Bad River watershed,” Wiggins told a news conference after the hearing.

“What was kind of put forward today was, ‘None of that stuff should matter. None of that stuff should exist. When Enbridge came knocking, you should have just let them do whatever they want,'” he said.

“We disagree.”

Heavy flooding that began in early April washed away significant portions of the riverbank where Line 5 intersects the Bad River, a meandering, 120-kilometre course that feeds Lake Superior and a complex network of ecologically delicate wetlands.

The band has been in court with Enbridge since 2019 in an effort to compel the pipeline’s owner and operator to reroute Line 5 around its traditional territory — something the company has already agreed to do.

But the flooding has turned a theoretical risk into a very real one, the band argues, and time is now of the essence. Lawyers for the band and its supporters were scheduled to hold a news conference after the hearing.

Line 5 meets the river just past a location the court has come to know as the “meander,” where the riverbed snakes back and forth multiple times, separated from itself only by several metres of forest and the pipeline itself.

At four locations, the river was less than 4.6 metres from the pipeline — just 3.4 metres in one particular spot — and the erosion has only continued.

The neighbouring state of Michigan, led by Attorney General Dana Nessel, has been waging its own war against Line 5, fearing a leak in the Straits of Mackinac, the ecologically delicate waterway where the pipeline crosses the Great Lakes.

“The alarming erosion at the Bad River meander poses an imminent threat of irreparable harm to Lake Superior which far outweighs the risk of impacts associated with a shutdown of the Line 5 pipeline,” Nessel argues in her brief.

“Without judicial intervention, it is likely that this irreparable harm will be inflicted not only on the band, but also on Michigan, its residents, and its natural resources.”

The economic arguments against shutting down the pipeline, which carries 540,000 barrels of oil and natural gas liquids daily across Wisconsin and Michigan to refineries in Sarnia, Ont., are by now well-known.

Line 5’s defenders, which include the federal government, say a shutdown would cause major economic disruption across the Prairies and the U.S. Midwest, where it provides feedstock to refineries in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

It also supplies key refining facilities in Ontario and Quebec, and is vital to the production of jet fuel for major airports on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border, including Detroit Metropolitan and Pearson International in Toronto.

A lengthy statement issued Tuesday by the Canadian Embassy warned of severe economic consequences of shutting down the line, as well as the potential ramifications for bilateral relations.

“The energy security of both Canada and the United States would be directly impacted by a Line 5 closure,” the statement said. Some 33,000 U.S. jobs and US$20 billion in economic activity would be at stake, it added.

“At a time of heightened concern over energy security and supply, including during the energy transition, maintaining and protecting existing infrastructure should be a top priority.”

Talks have been ongoing for months under the terms of a 1977 pipelines treaty between the two countries that effectively prohibits either country from unilaterally closing off the flow of hydrocarbons.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 18, 2023.

— With files from The Associated Press

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Economy

Former socialist economist explains why central planning never works

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From the Fraser Institute

By Matthew D. Mitchell

Central planning from the inside—an interview with a Soviet-era economist

In our descriptions of socialism in Poland and Estonia, we often quoted firsthand accounts of Poles and Estonians who lived through the period. These were workers, consumers, victims of oppression and resistance fighters. One voice that we didn’t capture was that of the planner—the government official charged with making the economy work, despite socialism’s enormous handicaps.

To better understand that perspective, I recently interviewed Gia Jandieri, an economist who worked for the State Supply Committee in Georgia from 1984 to 1989.

In 1989 Gia cofounded the very first non-governmental organization in Soviet Georgia (the Association of Young Economists) to push for market economic education. And in 2001 he established a think-tank, the New Economic School, to promote economic freedom. The New Economic School has been a full member of the Economic Freedom Network since 2004.

Here’s our discussion (lightly edited for readability):

Matthew Mitchell (MM):

How did you become an economist and a Soviet planner?

Gia Jandieri (GM):

It was accidental. In 1984 my mother worked at the Gossnab (the State Supply Committee for the Central Planning Authority) and she offered to introduce me to her boss. At that time I was only 23 years old and had graduated from the Georgian Polytechnical Institute. My knowledge of economics was mostly from life and family experience (my parents worked at a metallurgical plant).

But as a student in 1979 I had had what I thought were a few strange discussions with a teacher of political economy. Like most teachers, he was no true believer in socialism (it was hard for anyone to believe at that time). But he was required to teach the propaganda. What surprised me was that he was willing to publicly agree with me about my suspicions that the system was failing and might even collapse. This was rare, and he was taking a risk. But it also inspired me. It is also important to note that he wanted to hide his hesitation about Marxism and the Soviet system and he also wanted me to stop my questions, and/or stop attending his lectures (which was of course not allowed). I recall he told me: “either I report you or someone reports both of us for having prohibited discussions.”

When I finished my university study of engineering, I was already sure I wanted to be an economist. So, when the opportunity arose in 1984 to work at the State Supply Committee, I seized it.

MM:

Tell us a little bit about the job of a planner. What were your responsibilities? And how did you go about doing them?

GJ:

Our department inside of Gossnab was responsible for monitoring the execution of agreements for production of goods and government orders. My task was to verify that the plans had been executed correctly, to find failures and problems, and to report to the higher authorities.

This included reading lots of reports and visiting the factories and their warehouses for auditing.

The Soviet economy had been in a troublesome condition since the 1970s. We (at the Gossnab) had plenty of information about failures, but it wasn’t useful. We knew that the quality of produced goods was very low, that any household good that was of usable quality was in deficit, and that the shortages encouraged people to buy on the black market through bribes.

In reality, a bribe was a substitute for a market-determined price; people were interested in paying more than the official price for the goods they valued, and the bribe was a way for them to indicate that they valued it more than others.

The process of planning was long. The government had to study demand, find resources and production capacities, create long-run production and supply plans, compare these to political priorities, and get approval for general plans at the Communist Party meetings. Then the general plans needed to be converted to practical production and supply plans, with figures about resources, finances, material and labour, particular producers, particular suppliers, transportation capacities, etc. After this, we began the process of connecting factories and suppliers to one another, organizing transportation, arranging warehousing, and lining up retail shops.

The final stage of the planning process was to send the participating parties their own particular plans and supply contracts. These were obligatory government orders. Those who refused to follow them or failed to fulfill them properly were punished. The production factories had no right or resources to produce any other goods or services than those described in the supply contracts and production plans they received from the authorities. Funny enough, though, government officials could demand that they produce more goods than what was indicated in the plans.

MM:

What made your job difficult? Let’s assume that a socialist planner is 100 per cent committed to the cause; all he or she wants to do is serve the state and the people. What makes it difficult to do that?

GJ:

There were several difficulties. We had to find appropriate consumer data and compare it to the data of suppliers (of production goods mostly). I was working with several (5-15) factories per year. I needed to have current and immediate information, but the state companies were always trying to hide or falsify their reports. In some cases, waste and theft could be so significant that production had to be halted.

The planners invested vast sums of money and time in data collection and each had special units of data processing.

This was a technical exercise and had nothing to do with efficiency or usefulness. The collected data was outdated by the time it was printed. The planning, approval, and execution processes could take many years to complete, and by the time plans were ready, demand had usually changed, creating deficits of what was demanded and surpluses of what was not demanded. The planners, no matter how dedicated or intelligent they might be, simply couldn’t meet the demands of the customers.

Central planning was not an easy exercise. The central planners needed to understand what was needed—both production supplies and consumer goods. But, of course, we had no way of knowing what people truly wanted because there was no market. Consumers weren’t free to choose from different suppliers and new suppliers weren’t free to enter the market to offer new or slightly different goods.

One of the more helpful ways to find out what people wanted was to look at what consumers in the West wanted since they actually had economic freedom and their demands were quickly satisfied. The government also did a lot of industrial spying to steal Western production ways and technologies.

MM:

Were most of the planners you encountered 100 per cent committed to the cause? Were they incentivized to serve the cause?

GJ:

Some of the staffers were dedicated to their work. Others were mostly thinking about how they could obtain bribes from the production factories as a reward for closing their eyes to mismanagement and failure. The planners were also involved in more significant corruption to allow the production factories to have extra materials and financial resources so they could produce for the black market or so they could simply steal.

Then the revenue from these bribes would be divided among all personnel from different agencies (like the Price Committee, Auditing (“Public Control”), and several other agencies charged with inspections). So, in fact, the system generated corruption as a substitute for official incentives. If anything was still operating, this was mostly due to these corrupt incentives and not in spite of them.

The planning system was quite complex and involved many governmental offices though the main decisions were made by the Communist Party. Planning authorities would report to the Party leadership what they thought would be possible to produce and Party leaders would inevitably demand higher quantities.

Gosplan was bureaucratic to its core, both in principle and character. Nobody was allowed to innovate other than planned/artificial innovation. Everyone had to work only by decrees and orders coming from the political leadership. The political orders and bribes were the only engines that were moving anything. Market incentives didn’t exist. Bonuses (premia) were awarded according to bureaucratic rules, and, paradoxically, these destroyed the motivation of the genuinely hard workers.

MM:

Moving beyond economics a bit, how did the socialist system affect other aspects of life? Culture, families, relationships, civil institutions?

GJ:

One of the examples is Western pop-music. Soviet propaganda tried to hide Western culture. Music schools mostly taught Russian classical music and some folk music of various Soviet ethnic nationalities, but it was mostly Russian.

Jazz and hard rock were not prohibited but very much limited. That of course encouraged smuggling and illegal dissemination, as in every sector. Soviet music factories were buying some rights to the music (for instance the Beatles, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald). But these recordings were only available in limited quantities and were of bad quality in order to limit their influence.

Small illegal outfits would make unofficial and illegal copies of any popular western music (not classical).

Cultural institutions like theatre or cinema were harshly censored and mostly served the propaganda machine. The people involved in these sectors did what all producers of goods did. They needed to lobby their benefactors in the bureaucracy, bribing and currying favour with them in different ways. It was said that only one out of four films produced would be shown in the cinemas. The other three films were only produced so studios could steal the resources and obtain higher reimbursements.

Before Soviet rule, Georgia was a property rights and ethics-based society. We have ancient proverbs that testify to this. The Soviets killed the ethical leaders, the property-owning elite, and confiscated their property. The stolen property was supposed to be held in common. In fact, the bureaucracy took it.

State ownership of property opened the way to waste and theft of construction and production materials, office inventory, fertilizer, harvested agricultural products, etc.

In Georgia, one bright spot was underground education. Georgians succeeded in growing a network of informal tutors who effectively operated despite very harsh efforts by the authorities to quash them. These skillful teachers prepared the young people for university exams. This was so widespread that some successful young people (including my wife and friends, for instance) started offering private (completely illegal) teaching services when they were university students.

MM:

To this day, socialism remains alluring to many in the West, especially young people. What do you have to say to the 46 per cent of Canadians aged 18-34 who support socialism?

GJ:

Very simply, it is a mistake to think socialism fails because of the wrong managers. This mistake allows people to think that it’ll work the next time it is tried, if we just have better people. In fact the opposite is true—socialism invites the wrong managers. It doesn’t reward a great manager who tries to improve the system but a person who can adapt to and accept the corruption, waste and theft. Socialism also encourages corruption. When more resources are in the control of politicians and the bureaucracy, there is more favouritism, privilege, and discrimination. Jobs and business opportunities are based on privilege rather than market competition. This means naïve people will always be cheated by brazen liars and manipulators.

Poor people are told that the state is under their control but in fact the bureaucracy and political hierarchy control everything.

In socialism, nature and natural resources are abused and wasted. The Tragedy of the Commons runs rampant without private property, voluntary cooperation, and ethics. The government tries to manage everything centrally and totally fails because it lacks dynamic information, competitive discipline, and proper incentives.

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Economy

Biden environmental agenda under fire for increasing costs for Americans

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From The Center Square

By Casey Harper

The Biden administration’s energy policies are increasingly costly for Americans, a newly released report says.

U.S. House Oversight Committee Chair Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., released the report, which argues Biden’s energy policies have increased costs for Americans and hurt the economy.

“The Biden Administration weaponized the power of the executive branch to wage a war against American-made energy production and cement in place radical, far-left energy policies that jeopardize domestic energy development, overload America’s power grid, and raise costs on all American consumers and businesses,” Comer said in a statement.

In particular, President Joe Biden’s recent pause on liquefied natural gas exports, elevated gas prices, and the aggressive push toward transitioning toward electric energy are among the main criticisms lobbed at Biden.

Comer’s office cites analysis from the right-leaning American Action Forum released in April. AAF reports that in 2024 alone, Biden’s Environmental Protection Agency, as of the end of April, had proposed 38 new rules and finalized 63 rules. According to AAF, those rules total 33,138 pages and will cost the U.S. economy over a trillion dollars.

The report also highlights the cost of pushing America’s energy needs increasingly to the electric grid.

From the report:

Even as use efficiency improves, the U.S. Energy Information Administration projects U.S. utility-generated electricity demand to continue growing at an average annual rate of one percent through 2050. But radical new policies and regulations promulgated by the Biden Administration seek to transform power generation and electricity markets. The Biden Administration is moving to replace highly reliable and affordable existing sources of energy with new sources that are typically less reliable and more expensive. For consumers, the results of these initiatives will predictably be higher costs on utility bills, higher costs for goods and services that consume electricity, invisible energy subsidy costs paid through income and other taxes, as well as economic costs as high electricity prices push some business opportunities overseas.

The White House has cited climate change concerns as it rolled out several policies, including a pause on new export sites for liquefied natural gas.

That LNG pause has been particularly controversial, with a coalition of state and Congressional leaders rallying opposition against it. A lawsuit challenging the constitutionality has been filed by a coalition of states.

Biden’s Department of Energy has defended the decision and stressed that it will not stop any currently existing sales. The White House has also argued that the U.S. is already a leading exporter without new sales.

“Before issuing any new LNG export decisions, DOE is embarking on a transparent process to ensure we are using the most up-to-date economic and environmental analyses to determine whether additional approvals of LNG exports to non-FTA countries are in the ‘public interest,” the DOE said in a February post defending the decision.

Meanwhile, federal climate-related spending has come under fire.

During a news conference last week, U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., sparked headlines by exposing that federal funds went to a climate group that was actively supporting the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, an attack that included rape, killing children, and hostage-taking.

“We went to the website of Climate Justice Alliance. This is what we found on the website that our taxpayer dollars are going to organizations such as this,” she said, referencing a pro-Hamas photo reportedly found on the group’s website.

Comer’s reports come as Biden’s Secretary of Energy, Jennifer Granholm, took questions from lawmakers last week about Biden’s energy policies.

Republicans took her to task for the increased costs Americans are facing. Energy costs have risen over 35% since Biden took office, according to federal data.

During the hearing, Granholm defended her agency’s work, including Biden’s decision to drain the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve earlier in his term to help address soaring gas prices.

“The Administration remains committed to maintaining a robust and well-functioning SPR. In 2022, in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the resulting disruptions in the oil market, the President directed the sale of 180 million barrels,” Granholm said in her written testimony. submitted to the committee. “The emergency sales provided supply certainty and acted as a bridge until domestic production increased, which in turn helped to mitigate the cost increases for American families.”

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