Those who live along the Gulf of Mexico know all too well the environmental and economic devastation that ensued from the massive BP oil spill there.

Closer to home, those of us who live near the manure digester in the Town of Vienna know that sometimes pipes break. Imagine if instead of transporting manure, the pipes that ruptured at the manure digester had been transporting crude oil.

As you may have read about in the news, a foreign-owned corporation called Enbridge plans to expand an oil pipeline that runs through northeastern Dane County, near the village of Marshall. The expansion, which will include a new pumping station in Dane County, will allow the pipeline to carry tar sands crude oil.

Tar sands crude is a fossil fuel, and burning it releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, where it contributes to global climate change. Moreover, the tar sands that will be pumped through Dane County will originate from forested land in Canada. Mining for the tar sands will require cutting down a huge number of trees in the Canadian boreal forest, a forest that sequesters more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than the Amazon rain forest.

For these reasons, environmental groups such as have strongly opposed the Enbridge pipeline, as well as the similar Keystone XL pipeline in the western United States.

Tar sands crude is thicker than conventional crude oil, which means that in order to pump it through a pipeline, it has to be pumped at high pressure and high heat. In fact, the new pumping station in Dane County is being built because of the higher pressure requirements for the tar sands pipeline. The high pressure and high heat makes a tar sands pipeline more dangerous in the event of a pipeline rupture than a conventional pipeline would be.

When conventional oil is spilled on a waterway, it tends to float on the surface, where it can be skimmed off. By contrast, when tar sands crude oil is spilled on a waterway, it sinks to the bottom. Therefore, a spill of tar sands crude oil can be extraordinarily expensive to clean up. In fact the only way to clean it up is to dredge the bottom of every contaminated lake, pond or river.

This is not a mere worst-case scenario speculation. In 2010, an Enbridge pipeline ruptured and spilled tar sands oil along the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. That spill has cost over $1 billion in cleanup costs.

Dane County declined to issue the necessary zoning permit allowing construction of the pipeline pumping station unless Enbridge took out sufficient insurance to guarantee that Dane County taxpayers won't be stuck with the bill in the event of a pipeline spill. Enbridge and its team of high-paid corporate lawyers fought this requirement tooth and nail, but the Dane County Zoning and Land Regulation (ZLR) Committee, led by Supervisor Patrick Miles, stood firm.

Enbridge appealed the ZLR Committee decision to the full Dane County Board, and a hearing had been scheduled for July 16 to take a final vote from the entire county board.

Enbridge's lobbyists then made an end run around the county board. They managed to convince some anonymous legislator to insert a last-minute amendment into the state budget prohibiting Dane County from requiring Enbridge to carry adequate insurance.

Governor Scott Walker, who has received numerous campaign contributions from Enbridge corporate executives, signed the budget on July 12, just one day before he announced he was running for president of the United States.

What has happened here is a failure of democratic government. This failure has created a potential environmental disaster waiting to happen. Dane County did its job to protect public safety, but Scott Walker and Enbridge subverted the democratic process by overruling Dane County.

Dane County residents will now be left unprotected if a pipeline spill of tar sands crude oil occurs and if Enbridge is unable or unwilling to clean up its mess.

Tim Kiefer represents the Waunakee/Westport area on the Dane County Board. Maureen McCarville represents the DeForest/Windsor area on the Dane County Board.

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