Bill McKibben, enviros urge Whitmer to end oil pipeline talks

By: - May 22, 2019 1:29 pm

Mackinac Bridge | Susan J. Demas

Author and activist Bill McKibben has joined Michigan environmental groups in pressing Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to halt Enbridge’s Line 5 and ongoing negotiation on its plan for a new oil pipeline under the Mackinac Straits.

McKibben and others say the issue, like the Keystone XL pipeline project, could garner national opposition if the new Democratic governor allows Enbridge to move forward with another tar sands oil pipeline authorized by legislation signed in December by her predecessor, GOP former Gov. Rick Snyder.

Bill McKibben

The existential threat of global warming should instead prompt Michigan and the world to veer away from fossil fuels, not “lock in” a massive pipeline tunnel that could carry oil through some of the world’s largest freshwater reserves for close to another century, McKibben and other environmentalists argue.

“The day in 2028 when people gather to mark the inauguration of a new tunnel carrying tar sands oil is going to seem as out of tune as it’s possible to be,” McKibben said. “These are the last moments when people are trying to lock in what they can in the fossil fuel industry.

“No one’s gonna be proposing projects like this a decade from now.”

McKibben, an author and founder of the environmentalist group, joined a former Michigan tribal leader, the Michigan League of Conservation Voters and the Michigan Climate Action Network Wednesday morning to renew the call to action during a telephone press conference.

Other Michigan groups, such as the environmental coalition Oil & Water Don’t Mix, have called on Whitmer to end talks with Enbridge and immediately shut down Line 5 for similar reasons.

Beyond the threat to the Great Lakes, they decry another oil pipeline at a time when the United Nations has said humans are speeding up the extinction of other species and are en route to climate “catastrophe.”  The U.N. has said that global carbon emissions offer a window of just 12 years before “a point of no return,” the Associated Press and other news outlets have reported.

Gov.. Whitmer
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announcing new environmental executive orders, Feb. 4, 2019 | Nick Manes

As a candidate, Whitmer vowed to shut down the 66-year-old Line 5 and made clean water a major part of her campaign.

Once in office, the governor and Attorney General Dana Nessel challenged the 2018 Lame Duck law signed by Snyder that sought to secure the tunnel project deal. Nessel argued in a legal opinion that the law was unconstitutional at Whitmer’s request, and the governor afterward signed an executive directive barring state agencies from issuing further permits Enbridge may need for the plan.

But Whitmer has since declined to rule it out.

Asked by the Michigan Advance earlier in May, the governor said her plan has always been “to get the oil out of the water at the earliest possible moment.”

“We’re trying to avoid the potential of years and years and years of litigation where the oil continues to stay in the water,” Whitmer told reporters at the Lansing Brewing Co. last week. “We’re exploring if there’s a quick way to go about doing that and I think we’re making some progress. And we’ll probably be able to have a real assessment of where we’re headed in the next few weeks. It’s too early to tell you with any specificity, but my goal has always been to get the oil out of the water and that is paramount.”

Environmental protest outside the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, May 21, 2019 | Nick Manes

This has won the praise of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, as the Advance also reported. But environmentalists are not pleased and say they may consider legal action if Whitmer allows the Enbridge tunnel pipeline.

A handful of activists demonstrated outside of the chamber’s downtown Lansing headquarters on Tuesday to call attention to the lobby’s support for “polluters up and down the ticket,” said Marshall Clabeaux, one of the protesters.

League of Conservation Voters Executive Director Lisa Wozniak told reporters Wednesday that the Enbridge project “is the exact opposite of the climate solutions Michigan needs to be prioritizing.

“We must say no to oil pipelines in our state,” she said.

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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.