Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer Unveils Plans To Shut Down A 65-Year-Old Pipeline

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Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) is working to shut down a 65-year-old pipeline that pumps oil from Canada into the United States. The 645-mile pipeline runs through the Great Lakes, where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron connect, something Whitmer believes can have a devastating environmental impact. The area of concern, for Whitmer, is the small stretch that runs through the waterways, known as Line 5.

“These oil pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac are a ticking timebomb, and their continued presence violates the public trust and poses a grave threat to Michigan’s environment and economy,” Whitmer’s office said in a statement, according to The Guardian.

The Canadian company that owns Line 5, Enbridge, however, believes the pipeline is safe.

“Enbridge officials admit that the idea of constructing a pipeline in the open waters of the Straits would not fly today. But company officials also insist that the current pipeline is safe: constructed of material thicker than most pipelines and watched closely for any sign of malfunction,” Bridge Michigan reported.

In an opinion piece for The Washington Post, Whitmer cited various instances of potential oil spills that could have taken place:

While Enbridge says its pipelines pose no threat, the record from just the past few years says otherwise. The Straits of Mackinac is a busy shipping channel, with the dual pipelines lying perpendicular to passing ships. In April 2018, a commercial vessel inadvertently dropped and dragged a massive anchor across the pipelines while passing through the Straits. An “underwater pipeline inspection video shows deep scoring along the lake bottom, then up and over the twin pipelines,” the Detroit Free Press later reported. “Deep marks are etched in both pipelines, and there is evidence of outer protective coating loss.”

It was just a matter of luck that the pipelines did not rupture. Then, in 2020, Enbridge disclosed another strike on Line 5, one that caused significant damage to a pipeline support, likely by either an anchor or cables from a passing ship. Another catastrophe dodged.

The governor has been in a six-month-long battle with Enbridge. Back in November, she revoked an easement Enbridge received in 1953. She gave the company a 180-day order to shut down the pipeline. That deadline – set for May 12 – has come and gone.

“Last November, I filed a lawsuit and notified Enbridge that the state of Michigan was revoking and terminating the 1953 easement for Enbridge’s dual pipelines in the Straits. The notice gave Enbridge 180 days — until this past Wednesday — to cease pumping oil through the Great Lakes,” Whitmer wrote in the Op-Ed. “This week, I notified Enbridge that if it continues to operate past the deadline — which it has done — the state would make every effort to disgorge the company of all profits unjustly earned from Line 5 while trespassing on state land.”

Enbridge has refused to abide by Whitmer’s order, citing economic concerns. According to the Enbridge website, Line 5 transports roughly 540,000 barrels of crude oil per day. If the pipeline was shut down and tanker trucks were used to transport the oil, “an estimated 2,100 trucks would need to head east every day from Superior and travel across Michigan to transport what’s carried by Line 5. That’s the equivalent of 90 trucks an hour leaving our Superior Terminal.”

Ohio Attorney General David Yost has also sided with Enbridge in legal proceedings. He has filed amicus curiae briefs in support of Line 5, “arguing on behalf of Ohio refineries and the state of Louisiana that closing the submerged oil line would have economic impact beyond Michigan. Yost argues the pipeline is vital to supplying oil refineries near Toledo and closing it would cause layoffs,” mlive.com reported.

Others, including Michigan’s tribes, have opposed the pipeline.

The only way the pipeline would come to a halt, according to Enbridge, is if a legal authority made the call.

“We will not stop operating the pipeline unless we’re ordered by a court or our regulator, which we think is highly unlikely,” Ryan Duffy, spokesman for Enbridge, told the Bridge Michigan.

According to international trade lawyer Lawrence Herman, Whitmer has no legal authority to revoke the pipeline. The deal was struck between the United States and Canada, not the state of Michigan and Canada. The 1977 Transit Pipelines Treaty, which both countries agreed to and Congress ratified, protects that agreement. Specifically, the treaty requires a 10-year notice before either party backs out of the deal, Herman explained.

“Regardless of what the state of Michigan may or may not want to do, the treaty is binding on the United States as a whole,” Herman told The Guardian.“It’s a matter between the two governments: Canada and the United States.”

Whitmer, and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, believe the legal challenges should be heard in a state court. That’s why back in November, Nessel filed a lawsuit “to reinforce the order in Ingham County Circuit Court,” Bridge Michigan reported. Enbridge, however, believes the case should be heard in a federal court.

The governor’s plan to do away with the pipeline includes a “propane security plan,” which moves the state away from relying on Line 5. According to Bridge Michigan, the plan has five steps:

  • Find alternatives for propane delivery: Whitmer’s proposed 2022 budget includes $10 million for the Michigan Department of Transportation to invest in new rail infrastructure, $5 million to install propane storage at rail yards, and $100,000 for grants to local development organizations to develop alternative propane supply and delivery options. The state said it is also working with the propane industry to find other ways to deliver propane, “pre-buy” propane for next winter to lock in lower prices, and is developing a “strategic propane reserve” to prevent shortages if retailers’ supplies run low.
  • Prevent price gouging, provide payment assistance: The Attorney General’s Corporate Oversight Division will handle complaints related to propane price gouging, and the administration has increased funding and restructured existing state programs to provide bill payment assistance to propane customers who can’t afford to pay their heating bills.
  • Trigger market incentives: Whitmer’s order to shut down the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline “sent as clear a signal as possible to propane retailers and other propane suppliers, who are responding to this opportunity,” the governor’s release said. The plan cites recent purchases of the Upper Peninsula’s Kincheloe terminal and the Lower Peninsula’s Alto terminal as examples, and notes that some propane suppliers have begun to wean themselves off of Line 5 by using state grants to invest in rail facilities.
  • Keep tabs on propane supply: The MPSC already does this, through a monitoring program that tracks state, regional and national energy supplies and maintains a plan for managing supplies and reducing propane demand.
  • Boost energy efficiency: Drafty homes consume more fuel. To reduce demand for propane, the plan calls for using money in Whitmer’s proposed 2022 budget to help low-income homeowners renovate their homes to improve energy efficiency. The newly-established Michigan Propane Commission will levy a fee on propane sold in Michigan and use the proceeds on incentives and rebates aimed at boosting customers’ propane efficiency. Beyond that, Whitmer’s administration is looking for ways to meet residents’ heating needs through electric heat powered by renewable energy.

Whitmer plans to use grants to pay for her propane plan, which is laid out in her budget. She could face a challenge in the Republican-controlled legislature, where her budget must be voted on and approved.

The news comes on the heels of the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack, which ravaged the southeast and East Coast over the last week. Experts indicated it could take up to two weeks for gas stations in those areas to return to normal, The Daily Wire reported.

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