LANSING – Certain organizations in the state are hailing a recent announcement by Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, regarding the Line 5 pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac.
According to Earthjustice, Whitmer and Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Director Dan Eichinger notified Enbridge on Nov. 13 that it will revoke and terminate the 1953 easement allowing the oil company to operate dual pipelines in the Straits to transport petroleum and other products. The decision comes after years of advocacy and litigation from local tribes and communities which have depended on the Straits for their livelihood.
“We are thrilled and thankful for Governor Whitmer’s decision to revoke the easement for Enbridge’s pipeline to run beneath the Straits,” said President Bryan Newland of the Bay Mills Indian Community. “Enbridge has consistently shown that it only cares about its profits and not about the communities of the Great Lakes. This is a monumental first step in rectifying the harm that the company has already inflicted upon Bay Mills and other tribal nations for decades.”
Earthjustice reports that this action is the culmination of a careful review of Enbridge’s compliance with the easement, the threats posed by the continued operation of the dual pipelines and the state’s energy supply. On June 7, 2019, the governor issued Executive Order 2019-14, creating the U.P. Energy Task Force to assess the region’s energy needs and alternative sources of supply. The task force issued a report on April 17, 2020. On June 27, 2019, Whitmer directed the DNR to undertake a comprehensive review of Enbridge’s compliance with the 1953 easement. That review is now complete and supports this action.
The Michigan Environmental Council also notes that Whitmer sent a notice of violation, termination and revocation of the easement that made Line 5’s existence possible to Enbridge, its owner. She then submitted a court filing to force the termination.
Conan Smith, President and CEO of Michigan Environmental Council, released the following statement in support:
“Gov. Whitmer took bold and incredibly important action by revoking Enbridge’s Line 5 easement Friday. Her leadership will protect the Great Lakes and the more than 48 million residents in Michigan, Canada and the Midwest that depend on them for drinking water. We thank the Governor for her tireless work on behalf of all of us to keep water, ecosystems and people healthy.”
Also on Nov. 13, the Great Lakes Business Network (GLBN) praised Whitmer’s revocation of the Line 5 operating easement, following a comprehensive review by the DNR.
“Enbridge’s long history of safety violations and environmental devastation more than justify this decision to revoke the Line 5 easement and protect the residents and businesses of Michigan,” said Larry Bell, GLBN co-chair and president of Bell’s Brewery. “I applaud the governor for taking the necessary steps to remove this threat to the Great Lakes.”
“This is a win for Michigan, the Great Lakes and our regional economy. I thank the governor for holding Enbridge accountable for their risky and dangerous pipeline operations, which have threatened our water and way of life for far too long,” said Rich Bergmann, owner of Round Lake Group LLC.
“The Great Lakes are essential to our economy and way of life and we commend this decision to protect our natural resources for future generations,” commented Juliette King McAvoy, GLBN co-chair and project manager for King Orchards.
“The governor has shown herself to be an environmental leader, recognizing that some risks are far too great. I thank Gov. Whitmer for taking steps to revoke Enbridge’s Line 5 easement and protect the interests of Michigan communities and businesses as a top priority,” McAvoy added.
“I want to thank Gov. Whitmer for taking this significant step to protect my family’s business and all businesses across the Great Lakes region that rely on Great Lakes tourism,” stated Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry President, Chris Shepler. “At a time when businesses are facing unprecedented challenges, eliminating the catastrophic risk of a Line 5 oil spill or rupture is more important than ever.”
“This is an enormous win for Michigan’s thriving blue economy and the continued health of our cherished Great Lakes,” echoed Beryl Skrocki, owner of Sleeping Bear Surf and Kayak. “I thank the governor for making this extremely difficult and historic decision on the Line 5 easement.”
Bob Sutherland, president of Cherry Republic, also remarked that Whitmer’s decision to decommission Line 5 is a tremendous step forward for the communities and businesses that rely on the Great Lakes. “We celebrate this win for clean water and this opportunity to direct our focus toward building a clean and resilient energy portfolio for Michigan.”
Agreeing that shutting down the pipeline will protect the Great Lakes, are those from the Michigan League of Conservation Voters (LCV), who say that the historic decision requires full closure of Line 5 by Spring 2021.
LCV representatives state that the governor’s move will shut down a damaged and dangerous oil pipeline.
“Gov. Whitmer’s bold action to shut down Line 5 protects our Great Lakes, our health and our state’s economy by ending the threat of a catastrophic oil spill in the Straits of Mackinac once and for all,” said LCV Executive Director Lisa Wozniak.
“This 67-year-old pipeline is the single biggest threat to our Great Lakes, and Canadian oil company Enbridge Energy has proven for years through its actions that it cannot safely maintain and operate it,” she claims. “The risk to our most precious freshwater resource, the source of drinking water for millions, is far too great to allow Line 5 to continue operating and Governor Whitmer rightly moved to protect our state.”
According to the LCV, the review of the easement by Whitmer’s administration found numerous, blatant violations by Enbridge Energy regarding the pipeline’s safety and integrity, which are grounds for shutting it down.
“Today’s decision comes after years of tireless work by advocates following Enbridge’s devastating oil spill in the Kalamazoo River and numerous cases of near-miss catastrophes from anchor strikes, gaps in coating and other damage,” Wozniak stated. “The governor’s action affirms our state’s commitment to protecting our water and is a critical step in moving us away from outdated fossil fuel infrastructure. We have a real opportunity to revitalize our economy by expanding clean energy sources and finding solutions that don’t imperil our most important freshwater resources.”
Those from the LCV add that Whitmer has already begun seeking alternative sources of propane for residents in the Upper Peninsula. The U.P. Energy Task Force has produced a report with numerous suggestions for securing the energy needs there, and keeping costs low.
The LCV notes that Enbridge Energy is the company responsible for the 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill, where its Line 6B Pipeline burst, spilling millions of gallons into the river and surrounding area. It was one of the largest inland oil spills in history.
According to the LCV, experts estimate that a Line 5 oil spill would impact more than 400 miles of shoreline in Michigan, Wisconsin and Canada.
“There’s no question an oil spill in the Straits of Mackinac would have catastrophic and long-term consequences to the economic and environmental health of Michigan and the Great Lakes. Unfortunately here in Michigan, we already know from the Enbridge pipeline leak in the Kalamazoo River just how devastating and costly spills are to our state,” said U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-MI).
He is a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which oversees the federal agency responsible for pipeline safety.
“Given the structural integrity and age concerns around Line 5 – particularly in recent years – and Enbridge’s failures and inability to be transparent with Michiganders, it’s clear that Line 5 poses too serious of a threat and must be removed in the coming months,” Peters continued in his statement.
“In the coming weeks and months, I’ll be working with PHMSA and the State of Michigan to swiftly evaluate alternatives to Line 5 while continuing to hold Enbridge accountable,” he advised. “We must do everything possible to protect our Great Lakes and support the businesses that rely on them – and I’ll continue working to protect them for future generations.”