Anne Woiwode: Whitmer must shut down Line 5

April 25, 2019 8:57 am

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signs environmental measures alongside Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist and DEQ chief Liesl Clark, Feb. 4, 2019 | Nick Manes

On Earth Day, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s visionary new Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) was born, bringing together the ambitious goals of protecting the Great Lakes, addressing climate change and environmental justice and enacting an agenda to quickly transition to a clean energy future.

But just days earlier, it was reported that Whitmer said she is open to negotiating with Enbridge about allowing its deteriorating 66-year-old crude oil and natural gas liquids Line 5 pipeline to continue to operate, even though it threatens all four of her stated goals, both in the Straits of Mackinac, and along the pipeline’s full 645-mile course.

The potential Whitmer-Enbridge negotiation is ill-advised. It threatens to continue the disastrous direction set by former Gov. Rick Snyder and former Attorney General Bill Schuette.

Snyder and Schuette not only failed to protect our state and the Great Lakes, but they allowed the danger posed by Line 5 to become even greater during their tenure.

Multiple official panels and dozens of studies conducted over the course of several years spelled out clearly that Line 5 is an unparalleled disaster waiting to happen. A break in Line 5 would leave our state’s “blue economy” crippled, destroying tourism and polluting the drinking water supply for millions of people, as well as shattering the treaty rights of Michigan’s Native American tribes.

During prior administrations, Enbridge failed to disclose serious issues to the state and the public, such as problems with the pipeline coating for three years. Yet officials continued to pursue agreements and legislation to give Enbridge exactly what the company wanted.

Snyder and Schuette left office at the end of last year. But first, they and the Legislature worked to give Enbridge a virtually indefinite lease to keep the dual pipelines on the floor of the Straits, and continue to send 23 million gallons of hazardous liquid petroleum products through the full pipeline each day.

A proposed oil tunnel, authorized in 2018 legislation that was declared unconstitutional by current Attorney General Dana Nessel, was posited as a solution to the threat posed by Line 5.

In reality, the tunnel would have allowed Enbridge to continue to operate Line 5 beyond retirement age across 400 waterways and along dozens of miles of Lake Michigan coastline for up to 99 years.

We know now that Enbridge had failed, apparently for decades, to keep its obligations to properly maintain Line 5 under conditions of its easement over the bottomlands of the Great Lakes.

State officials like Snyder, and now Whitmer, are stewards of the interests of all Michiganders in the public trust we jointly hold in the Great Lakes. As our elected leaders, it is their paramount job to protect our commonly held resources from pollution, impairment or destruction.

And yet instead of exercising the state’s clear authority to revoke the easement given to Enbridge in 1953 based on their well-documented failure to comply with its provisions, both the Snyder administration and Schuette delayed action, and allowed a compounding of the danger by authorizing the addition of supports under the pipelines creating a virtual “suspension bridge.”

Only by chance did a dragged anchor a year ago simply cause gouges in three places instead of gashing open both pipelines.  

As a candidate, Whitmer said that she would immediately begin the process of decommissioning Line 5 as soon as she took office. She must now direct her staff to keep that commitment.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer giving her first State of the State speech, Feb. 12, 2019 | Casey Hull

Decommissioning Enbridge Line 5 will go far beyond being a simple gesture to the demand of the vast majority of Michiganders that Whitmer protect our most precious resources.

With this action, she will not only end a massive threat to the Great Lakes, but Whitmer will tell the children and youth of today that she believes they deserve a better future that her predecessor was unwilling to fight for.

We know that critical changes often depend on the actions of a single person. But in shutting down Line 5, Whitmer will feel the support and love of millions of Michiganders who have her back to fight for a better tomorrow.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Anne Woiwode
Anne Woiwode

Anne Woiwode has been a part of the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter for four decades, advocating for issues including wilderness protection, clean energy and protection of the Great Lakes. Today, she is the chair of the Michigan Chapter.