Sunday marked a hard-earned victory for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe with the announced construction halt of the Dakota Access oil pipeline.
The protest’s main message has resonated here in Michigan and around the globe because of its core truth: oil pipelines – new and old – threaten lands and waters that are vital, not just to tribal members but to all Americans. This holds true here in the Great Lakes, where Enbridge’s 63-year-old Line 5 oil pipelines jeopardize 20 percent of the planet’s fresh surface water and the Pure Michigan economy.
After seven months of legal battles and protests, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers declared it will not grant the final easement across the Missouri River being sought to complete the 1,172-mile Dakota Access pipeline. The Army Corps cited the need to conduct a full environmental review exploring alternative pipeline routes to transport Bakken oil to Illinois and the Gulf that do not endanger the Missouri River or impact sovereign tribal lands and cultural resources.
Before this decision, Energy Transfer Partners had circumvented comprehensive environmental review of the entire Dakota Access pipeline and its 204 water crossings under the Army Corps’ controversial Nationwide Permit 12.
More than 300 tribes — including Chippewa and Ojibwa from Michigan — have gathered at Standing Rock in solidarity to also tell their story of Enbridge’s oil pipelines running through their sovereign fishing grounds in the Mackinac Straits and the public waters held in trust by the State of Michigan. Tribes, citizens and businesses are calling on Gov. Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette to step up, just as the Army Corps has done at Standing Rock, and apply the law to shut down Line 5.
For six decades, Michigan has allowed Enbridge to piecemeal Line 5’s expansion and neglected to conduct a full review of risks and alternatives under rule of law. Meanwhile, Enbridge’s failure to properly anchor Line 5 against the Straits’ powerful currents has led to repeated violations of its easement with the state. This ineptitude calls into question the aging pipeline’s structural integrity as it continues to pump nearly 23 million gallons of oil daily from western to eastern Canada using the Great Lakes as a high-stakes shortcut.
These central lessons of Standing Rock apply to the Straits of Mackinac:
1. Treaties and public trust water rights are paramount to private interests. This is why tribes and citizens are demanding government end piecemeal pipeline review, overall deference to Big Oil and evaluate alternatives to prevent high risks to health, livelihood and the environment.
2. All pipelines eventually fail. Because of this inherent risk, pipelines in, under or otherwise near water bodies require comprehensive impact and alternatives analyses.
3. Oil and water don’t mix. Our future prosperity depends on clean water and clean energy. We cannot afford to contaminate the very source of our livelihoods and well-being.
It’s high time for the State of Michigan to apply Standing Rock’s lessons by honoring both treaty and public water rights here in the Great Lakes.
About the author: Liz Kirkwood is an environmental attorney and the executive director of For Love of Water (FLOW), a Great Lakes water law and policy center based in Traverse City. Learn more at flowforwater.org and oilandwaterdontmix.org.
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