Updated: Enbridge tunnel bill awaits Gov. Snyder’s signature

By: - December 11, 2018 6:33 pm

Mackinac Bridge | Susan J. Demas

Updated: 2:08 p.m.

Both houses of the Legislature today wasted no time acting on legislation that could ensure that oil and natural gas continue running through the Straits of Mackinac. The bill is now on Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk.

This has been one of term-limited governor’s top priorities in his last few weeks in office as he’s worked out a deal with Enbridge to secure Line 5, despite vocal criticism from environmental groups. Both Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General-elect Dana Nessel want to shut down Line 5, but this new legislation could tie their hands.

The matter is widely expected to end up in court.

Lee Chatfield

The pipeline carries roughly 23 million gallons of oil and liquid natural gas a day through the Straits of Mackinac. Senate Bill 1197, sponsored by state Sen. Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba), would allow a new utility tunnel that could house Line 5. The legislation creates the Mackinac Utility Corridor Authority.

In a speech supporting the legislation today, state Rep. Lee Chatfield (R-Levering), the incoming House speaker who hails from the Upper Peninsula, said he enjoys taking his five children to the Great Lakes and vowed to protect them.

“It truly is our heritage,” he said.

However, when it comes to Line 5, Chatfield said Michigan “can’t wait any longer. Doing nothing is not an option.”

Last week, the Michigan Senate voted to approve SB 1197 on a mostly party-line 25-13 vote. This morning, the House Operations Committee moved through amended legislation and the full House quickly took it up.

SB 1197 passed 74-34 this afternoon, with many Democrats crossing over. The Senate promptly concurred with the House’s changes on a 25-12 vote, sending the bill to Snyder’s desk.

“This shouldn’t be a Republican or Democrat issue and no one in this chamber — myself included — should make it one,” Chatfield said.

However, groups representing the Oil & Water Don’t Mix coalition opposing Line 5 held out hope that Snyder would veto the bill.

“If Rick Snyder wants to repair his legacy as governor he needs to read the Michigan Constitution before condemning Michigan and the Great Lakes to 10 years or more of a high risk oil spill in the Mackinac Straits,” said Liz Kirkwood, an environmental attorney and executive director of the group For Love of Water (FLOW).  “This is an opportunity for the governor to pause, reflect and do the right thing by not signing into law this badly flawed legislation.”

Both House Minority Floor Leader Sam Singh (D-East Lansing) and Rep. Donna Lasinski (D-Scio Twp.) failed to win amendments on the House floor.
Winnie Brinks

Singh offered an amendment requiring a bond to be put on legislation. He said this was necessary so if there is a spill before the tunnel is completed, the cleanup can be done with “real hard dollars.” He added that the Legislature has not had “enough time to vet all of these issues.” Lasinski’s amendment was to ensure that jobs go to Michigan workers, not workers from other states like Ohio.

Rep. Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) said the bill allows Line 5 to keep operating.

“Corporations that pose a threat to Michigan’s water should not be given a free pass to pollute our environment, especially when that free pass is granted during an 11th-hour deal orchestrated to curb the authority of Michigan’s incoming executive branch,” said Brinks in a statement. This deal will allow Line 5, one of the greatest threats to the safety and security of our waterways, to continue operating with little to no oversight and leave taxpayers to pick up the tab. Allowing Line 5 to continue operating under these circumstances recklessly prioritizes Enbridge’s profits over the safety and well-being of our state.”

Reporter Michael Gerstein contributed to this report.

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Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 23-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on C-SPAN, MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQ people, the state budget, the economy and more. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 100 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive.