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Enbridge's $5M lobbying bill in Minnesota was mostly legal fees

The energy company was the biggest lobbying spender in 2017.

Earlier this week, lobbying figures for 2017 revealed Enbridge as the biggest spenders in Minnesota.

The energy company forked out more than $5 million in lobbying expenses last year, almost $3 million more than the next higher spender and the most in a single year in records dating back to 2002.

But what Enbridge spent the money on wasn't lobbying in the way it's commonly perceived, and that's because most of it was used to "lobby" the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

Different rules for lobbying the PUC

Lobbying under Minnesota law is defined as "seeking to influence legislative action, administrative action, and the official action of metropolitan governmental units."

But the rules for lobbying state lawmakers in the Minnesota Legislature are slightly different from the rules for lobbying government-appointed commissioners on the PUC.

The PUC's code of conduct forbids commissioners from having one-on-one communication with lobbyists representing special interests regarding a matter pending before the commission, with a PUC spokesman telling Bring Me The News it is not "lobbied as one thinks of the term."

Enbridge had a big matter before the Commission last year: its ongoing attempt to replace its Line 3 oil pipeline from Alberta to Superior, through Minnesota.

Related:

– Reveled: The biggest lobbying spenders in Minnesota last year.

The definition for what constitutes "seeking to influence" administrative action is broad.

In the PUC's case, it includes representations made during its public hearings, informational meetings and via any documents submitted to the commission or comments made on its website.

That means even a member of the public's comment for or against the pipeline could be construed as lobbying if they were getting paid to make it (more than $3,000 in a given year qualifies you as a lobbyist).

In Enbridge's case, the company hired legal support to make its representations to the PUC, which the company told Bring Me The News accounted for a big chunk of its $5 million lobbying spend during 2017.

Enbridge says this legal support included taking part in 22 Environmental Impact Statement public meetings, attending 18 pub;ic hearings and three weeks of hearings and appearances in front of the PUC.

"Under the laws of Minnesota, legal representation and related support in such matters before the MPUC are considered lobbyist activities and must be reported as such," an Enbridge spokesman said.

"Our 2017 lobbying expenses have increased largely due to the intensity of the regulatory process for the Line 3 Replacement Project."

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