Whitmer, Nessel push back on Snyder’s Line 5 plan

By: - January 2, 2019 9:39 pm

Enbridge Mackinaw Station, Mackinaw City | Susan J. Demas

A day after being inaugurated, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is pushing back against Republican efforts to keep oil flowing through the Great Lakes.

Whitmer has asked Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a fellow Democrat, to issue a formal opinion on the legality of a new law creating a panel of officials appointed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder that rubber-stamped a deal last month to keep oil flowing through the Straits of Mackinac.

The agreement forged between Snyder and Canadian energy company Enbridge would allow a plan to mover forward keeping oil flowing through the 65-year-old Line 5. This was one of the former governor’s top priorities in the Lame Duck session.

The pipeline carries about 23 million gallons of oil and some natural gas through the Straits of Mackinac each day. Environmental researchers have said a spill could devastate Great Lakes shoreline, despite assurances from Enbridge that the pipeline is safe.

The company argues Line 5 has operated safely for 65 years and says the risk of oil spilling into the Great Lakes will fall to virtually zero with a new buried pipeline.

Nessel will now weigh whether the new law creating the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority (PA 359) is legitimate. The panel has already approved Enbridge’s plan to construct the new pipeline and tunnel.

Rick Snyder

“There are serious and significant concerns regarding PA 359, which the previous governor and legislature initiated and passed without the care and caution one would expect for an issue that will have a monumental impact on our state,” Nessel said in a statement today.

“Governor Whitmer has rightly — and immediately — raised important questions about the legality and statutory underpinnings of this Act and my office is prepared to tackle her request for an opinion immediately,” Nessel continued.

The new attorney general said the new law creating the independent pipeline authority “raises serious legal concerns.” She added that Enbridge should not rely on it “to move forward unless and until these matters have been resolved.”

Nessel’s office did not say when the opinion will be issued, but said it is a top priority. Whitmer and Nessel both vowed to shut down Line 5 during their campaigns.

To avert that, Snyder created a panel of handpicked officials to oversee the construction of a 500 million project to build a new Enbridge tunnel 100 feet beneath Great Lakes bedrock and retire the current pipeline.

Dana Nessel

Environmentalists immediately praised the new leaders’ actions today.

“Public Act 359 and the agreements negotiated by Snyder are not a solution to the problem of Line 5 pipelines in the Mackinac Straits,” said Anne Woiwode in a statement for the Michigan chapter of the Sierra Club.  “They actually increase the likelihood of a pipeline rupture by leaving Line 5 in place for 10 years or more with a weak inspection system that relies on Enbridge’s consistently unreliable assurances.”

Lisa Wozniak, executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, praised Whitmer for being an “unabashed champion of our Great Lakes” and called Snyder’s plan “a backroom deal … to keep oil flowing through our Great Lakes despite the well-documented risks and widespread opposition from Michigan residents, businesses and experts.”

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Michael Gerstein
Michael Gerstein

Michael Gerstein is a former Advance reporter covering the Governor's office, criminal justice and the environment.