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Pipeline Study, or PR Puffery for Enbridge?

Energy

By Public Accountability Initiative

An economic impact study of Enbridge's proposed Line 3 replacement pipeline released by the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) was financed by an Enbridge-backed business group to which UMD has multiple close ties, all which the study failed to disclose, according to a new report.

The report from the nonprofit watchdog group Public Accountability Initiative (PAI) documents the major undisclosed conflicts of interest surrounding the UMD study, including that the group that requested the study and paid UMD for it, the Area Partnership for Economic Expansion (APEX), is closely tied to and funded by Enbridge, and that, along with Enbridge, UMD is a dues-paying members of APEX, giving it $30,000 a year.


UMD Chancellor Lendley Black also sits on the board of APEX alongside fellow board member Lorraine Little, Enbridge's U.S. director of public affairs, and UMD Natural Resources Research Institute Director Rolf Weberg sits on APEX's Executive Committee, all facts which UMD failed to disclose in its study.

The results of the study that the Enbridge-backed APEX paid UMD to produce have been pushed by APEX and other Line 3 boosters in the media and in public hearings. Other fossil fuel corporations that have publicly supported the pipeline, such as Allete's Minnesota Power, also have close ties to UMD and APEX, the report shows.

"The conflicts of interest surrounding this study are huge," said Derek Seidman, a research analyst at PAI and author of the report. "Public universities exist for the purpose of public education and the public good, not as promotional vehicles for industry-backed research. People making up their minds about Line 3 deserve to have their public institutions support more responsible and transparent studies that aren't so closely linked to the very entities aiming to profit off of the pipeline."

The report highlights other major conflicts of interests surrounding the UMD study, including that the Duluth News Tribune, the Twin Ports region's main newspaper which has published favorable editorials and op-eds on Enbridge's Line 3 proposal that cite the results of the UMD study, is a paying member of APEX alongside both Enbridge and UMD. Duluth News Tribune publisher Neal Ronquist sits on the APEX board alongside Enbridge and UMD.

The Duluth News Tribune has failed to disclose these major conflicts of interest in its coverage of Line 3 and the UMD study, especially the facts that the Tribune is a member of and funds the very group—on whose board it sits, alongside Enbridge and UMD—that commissioned the UMD study.

"These are stark professional and ethical failings on the part of the Duluth News Tribune and its reporting on Line 3 and the UMD study," said Seidman. "People making up their minds about Line 3 deserve to know if their leading media sources, which ideally they should trust, have major conflicts of interest around coverage of the topic."

The report also analyzes the UMD study's methodological flaws, including its use of IMPLAN, a modeling program that can be easily manipulated to arrive at varied results, and its reliance on inputs provided by Enbridge—the very company behind the Line 3 pipeline—to generate the study's findings. The study also doesn't take into account the likely costs associated with environmental damage, declining property values, and emissions that the pipeline will surely create.

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"We've moved the needle a lot, especially on environmental justice and upping Biden's ambition," said Sunrise Movement co-founder and executive director Varshini Prakash, a member of the Biden-Sanders Climate Task Force. "But there's still more work to do to push Democrats to act at the scale of the climate crisis."

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In a series of tweets Wednesday night, Ocasio-Cortez—the lead sponsor of the House Green New Deal resolution—noted that the Climate Task Force "shaved 15 years off Biden's previous target for 100% clean energy."

"Of course, like in any collaborative effort, there are areas of negotiation and compromise," said the New York Democrat. "But I do believe that the Climate Task Force effort meaningfully and substantively improved Biden's positions."

 

The 110 pages of policy recommendations from the six eight-person Unity Task Forces on education, the economy, criminal justice, immigration, climate change, and healthcare are aimed at shaping negotiations over the 2020 Democratic platform at the party's convention next month.

Sanders said that while the "end result isn't what I or my supporters would've written alone, the task forces have created a good policy blueprint that will move this country in a much-needed progressive direction and substantially improve the lives of working families throughout our country."

"I look forward to working with Vice President Biden to help him win this campaign," the Vermont senator added, "and to move this country forward toward economic, racial, social, and environmental justice."

Biden, for his part, applauded the task forces "for helping build a bold, transformative platform for our party and for our country."

"I am deeply grateful to Bernie Sanders for working with us to unite our party and deliver real, lasting change for generations to come," said the former vice president.

On the life-or-death matter of reforming America's dysfunctional private health insurance system—a subject on which Sanders and Biden clashed repeatedly throughout the Democratic primary process—the Unity Task Force affirmed healthcare as "a right" but did not embrace Medicare for All, the signature policy plank of the Vermont senator's presidential bid.

Instead, the panel recommended building on the Affordable Care Act by establishing a public option, investing in community health centers, and lowering prescription drug costs by allowing the federal government to negotiate prices. The task force also endorsed making all Covid-19 testing, treatments, and potential vaccines free and expanding Medicaid for the duration of the pandemic.

"It has always been a crisis that tens of millions of Americans have no or inadequate health insurance—but in a pandemic, it's potentially catastrophic for public health," the task force wrote.

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a former Michigan gubernatorial candidate and Sanders-appointed member of the Healthcare Task Force, said that despite major disagreements, the panel "came to recommendations that will yield one of the most progressive Democratic campaign platforms in history—though we have further yet to go."

 

Observers and advocacy groups also applauded the Unity Task Forces for recommending the creation of a postal banking system, endorsing a ban on for-profit charter schools, ending the use of private prisons, and imposing a 100-day moratorium on deportations "while conducting a full-scale study on current practices to develop recommendations for transforming enforcement policies and practices at ICE and CBP."

Marisa Franco, director of immigrant rights group Mijente, said in a statement that "going into these task force negotiations, we knew we were going to have to push Biden past his comfort zone, both to reconcile with past offenses and to carve a new path forward."

"That is exactly what we did, unapologetically," said Franco, a member of the Immigration Task Force. "For years, Mijente, along with the broader immigrant rights movement, has fought to reshape the narrative around immigration towards racial justice and to focus these very demands. We expect Biden and the Democratic Party to implement them in their entirety."

"There is no going back," Franco added. "Not an inch, not a step. We must only move forward from here."

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.

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