The skillet heated up last week in the Line 5 pipeline debate, with news exploding in quick succession like popcorn kernels in hot oil.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer gave a two-year decommissioning deadline; Enbridge said it would take the state to court to enforce the utility tunnel agreement; Attorney General Dana Nessel said ‘bring it;’ a state task force formed to look at alternatives for Enbridge’s Upper Peninsula gas supply; and unions jumped into the fray to protect jobs lost if either the pipeline is decommissioned or the tunnel project is scuttled.
Apparently the quiet before the hubbub was just the oil heating up under the many issues with the aging Line 5 oil and gas pipeline along the bottomlands of the Straits of Mackinac.
Now as we count the seconds between explosions, we wonder, where — in the wrangling, maneuvering and posturing — is the protection for the Great Lakes?
This question must be asked repeatedly. It must top any agenda. It must lead all discussions.
Around every deal-making table, we must ask, “what’s in this for our water?”
The Lake Erie Bill of Rights, or LEBOR, case in Toledo puts the lake’s court standing in question, as it seeks to establish rights for the Lake Erie Ecosystem to “exist, flourish, and naturally evolve,” self-govern and provide a clean environment for its citizens.
Not surprisingly it’s still in court, and will likely be there awhile.
We’ve advocated for practical, doable timelines and benchmarks for Enbridge, the Canadian beneficiary of a horrifically loose 1950s agreement with our state.
We need to sunset the 66-year-old Line 5, and act on a detailed, workable plan to see it safely decommissioned before something terrible happens in our fragile Straits.
We’ve seen the studies and read the scenarios of what a large leak that would do to one of the world’s largest freshwater supplies. Michiganders have also lived through real-life case studies: Enbridge’s 2010 spill of Line 6b on the Kalamazoo River was the largest, costliest inland spill in U.S. history, and subsequent investigations found the company had known about defects in its 40-year-old line.
A decade earlier, Enbridge spilled 222,600 gallons of oil and natural gas liquid near Crystal Falls in the Upper Peninsula, forcing 500 or so people to evacuate because of a 36-hour-long gas ball fire.
And there are too many smaller spills, explosions and leaks to ignore that they can and do happen — and that it takes watchdog vigilance to get the truth behind them.
But court battles are also a risk. They can be lengthy; their outcomes uncertain.
We don’t have a problem with a utility tunnel, as long as our state watchdogs the project. Recent concerns about closing in oil and electric lines together will need to be addressed. We feel confident that holding Enbridge accountable is a priority of Whitmer’s and Nessel’s.
We understand what’s driving the two-year timeline, but the state also needs to get clear of its mostly one-way, in perpetuity relationship with Enbridge, forged in the ‘50s, without any clear advantage — beyond our state’s and nation’s continuing reliance on oil and gas to keep everything running — and all of the risk.
Because the countdown clock never stops ticking.
Timelines, deadlines, benchmarks provide the structure and framework needed for large-scale change.
But good deadlines respond to changing information and changing conditions, and it’s rarely a good idea to dig in heels and set store by their arbitrary nature.
Time to circle back to the most fundamental question: How can we protect the Great Lakes in all of this?