The Line 5 pipeline issue has arrived at a critical juncture: Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has boldly announced her intention to keep her campaign promise and file legal action to decommission Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline later this week (thanks AG Nessel!!) However, Governor Gretchen Whitmer has not yet indicated that she’ll join Nessel’s legal filing, and is continuing to leave open negotiations with Enbridge for a dubious oil pipeline tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac.
It is extremely important that the governor join the attorney general in her lawsuit to bring the strongest possible case against this misguided Canadian oil pipeline tunnel that is risking our Great Lakes water and economy. Enbridge has proven to be particularly untrustworthy when discussing risks from the pipeline, and—along with allies—is spending millions in advertising dollars and applying extreme pressure to encourage Whitmer to keep oil flowing through Michigan’s most iconic and vulnerable waterway.
Below is background on the complex developments surrounding the Line 5 issue:
Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities has been leading the campaign to decommission Line 5 at the Straits since May 2013, when we launched the Oil and Water Don’t Mix campaign by inviting several environmental groups to raise awareness about the threat of an oil spill. Groundwork partnered with National Wildlife Federation in January 2017 to organize a new, powerful group of business leaders called the Great Lakes Business Network. These business professionals directed advocacy at the offices of the Michigan governor and attorney general, and engaged in effective candidate education during the 2018 election. Their advocacy was instrumental in making Line 5 a top election issue, in part by demonstrating that Line 5 primarily benefits Canadian interests while risking Michigan’s Great Lakes waters and by showing there are reasonable alternatives to the minor benefits Michigan currently receives from the pipeline. As candidates, both Dana Nessel and Gretchen Whitmer were unequivocal in their positions to decommission Line 5.
During the November 2018 lame duck session of the legislature, former Governor Rick Snyder announced a deal with Enbridge that would allow the company to build an oil tunnel under the Straits but the agreement did little to assure the existing pipelines would be removed from the water in less than a decade. The legislation was hastily constructed and placed oversight of the tunnel with the Mackinac Bridge Authority, which raised strong opposition from throughout the political spectrum. Rushed amendments to modify the bill were done improperly and ultimately were ruled unconstitutional by new Attorney General Dana Nessel in January 2019. Governor Whitmer immediately followed Nessel’s ruling by halting all action to process tunnel permits.
In April 2019, Governor Whitmer announced her intention to enter into negotiations with Enbridge to seek an expedited solution to remove the pipelines from the water, outside a lengthy legal process. Simultaneously, Attorney General Nessel said she was prepared to take swift legal action to decommission the pipeline should the negotiations drag on or stall.
In early June of 2019 it became clear that negotiations between Governor Whitmer and Enbridge were breaking down, and Enbridge filed a lawsuit in an attempt to reinstate the Snyder oil tunnel deal. As the governor’s June deadline for a negotiated deal passed, Whitmer has indicated that Nessel will need to take legal action in response to the Enbridge suit by June 27th —and that it will likely include other “legal theories” to support a move toward decommissioning.
The governor, however, by not committing to bring the full force of her office to join the attorney general’s suit, diminishes the power of Nessel’s action—which is why it is so important that citizens ask Whitmer to join Nessel’s suit.
The governor is under intense pressure from an aggressive and well-funded media campaign launched by Enbridge and its allies (Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the American Petroleum Institute and an oil-industry front group named Consumer Energy Alliance), as well as some sectors of labor. As part of its propaganda campaign, Enbridge is advancing messages that distort the importance of Line 5 to Michigan and inappropriately stoke fear of fuel shortages.
Governor Whitmer took positive action to help answer one of those overblown fears by establishing an Upper Peninsula Energy Task Force to study alternative systems that would ensure propane and electrical energy supplies are provided to UP residents with or without a Line 5 pipeline.
It’s time for Whitmer to end negotiations with Enbridge and move ahead with legal action to decommission the Line 5 pipeline.
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