by Bruce Walker
Lansing’s crop of newly elected and reelected officials is mostly mum on the fate of Line 5, or more specifically, the five-mile dual pipeline spanning the lakebed of the Straits of Mackinac.
The 2022 midterm election delivered majorities for Michigan Democrats in the state House and Senate, and the governor’s office – a trifecta for the first time in 40 years. State public policies and litigations could be significantly impacted by both chambers and the reelection of two key Democrats, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel.
During their respective first terms, Whitmer and Nessel attempted to shut down Enbridge’s Line 5 and prevent the $500 million construction of a tunnel 100 feet below the lakebed. In a debate Oct. 25, Whitmer seemingly reversed in proclaiming “no change” and saying permits are moving forward; this week, a spokeswoman in Nessel’s office says litigation cementing Michigan authority over the line also is moving forward.
The pipelines transport 540,000 gallons of fuels across the Straits each day, and supply 55% of the state’s total propane and 65% of the propane used to heat homes and businesses in the Upper Peninsula.
The current pipelines have been in operation for nearly 70 years without incident, transporting hydrocarbons from Canadian oil fields across Wisconsin and the Upper and Lower Peninsulas to refineries in southeastern Michigan, Ohio, and Ontario, Canada. Shutting down Line 5 would cause the costs of gasoline, propane and other petroleum products to rise by $5.9 billion per year, according to independent analyses.
Nessel’s office asserts authority over Line 5 resides with Michigan due to the 1953 easement the state has granted Enbridge, Line 5’s Canadian owner and operator. The attorney general has been maneuvering to move legal jurisdiction to Michigan courts, an effort challenged by Enbridge, citing a 1977 international treaty between the United States and Canada.
“As made clear in Enbridge’s filings in federal court, the Line 5 easement cases belong in federal court as any attempt to shut down Line 5 has serious ramifications under an international treaty and raises substantial questions of federal law relating to interstate commerce and federal jurisdiction on pipeline safety issues,” Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy told The Center Square in an email.
“A federal court is needed to uniformly apply federal law in a way that promotes the energy interests of the U.S. and is sensitive to U.S.-Canada foreign relations concerning critical infrastructure like Line 5,” he said.
Enbridge also contends the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration retains federal jurisdiction over Line 5 rather than Michigan.
Duffy said, “In our view the state of Michigan’s actions constitute a clear breach of the Transit Pipelines Treaty of 1977; which the Government of Canada invoked on October 4, 2021. Those actions give rise to an inter-governmental matter better addressed in dispute resolution under the Treaty between the Government of Canada and officials of the United States Government.”
Only one representative of an elected official of either party responded to The Center Square’s request for comment. Amber McCann, communications director in the Attorney General Office of Public Information & Education, answered with a one-sentence response: “The Department of Attorney General will continue to pursue its case in court.”
During her second debate with Republican opponent Tudor Dixon last month, Whitmer stated, “There has been no change in Line 5” during her first term as governor. “No change. In fact, the tunnel continues to move forward.” She continued, referencing the Michigan Public Service Commission, “All of the permits have been executed and its sitting in front of the MPSC and the federal government. I think that’s important to know.”
To which Dixon responded, “Line 5 has not been shut down but that’s not because Gretchen Whitmer hasn’t tried.”
The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy website corroborates Dixon’s response.
“A new administration took office in January 2019, with both Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel saying publicly that they oppose the continued operation of Line 5 within the Straits of Mackinac,” the EGLE website says.
The governor’s office and the offices of incoming Senate and House leaders did not respond to The Center Square’s requests for comment.
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Bruce Walker is a regional editor at The Center Square. He previously worked as editor at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s MichiganScience magazine and The Heartland Institute’s InfoTech & Telecom News.
Photo “Enbridge Line 5” by SHUT DOWN ENBRIDGE LINE 5/Coalition Challenging the Straits Sunken Hazard.