Enviros applaud Whitmer’s plan for propane security without Line 5

By: - March 12, 2021 5:14 pm

Mackinac Bridge | Susan J. Demas

With Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s deadline for Canadian oil company Enbridge to shut down its controversial Line 5 pipeline now less than two months away, the state issued a plan Friday to ensure propane security for residents in the absence of the embattled pipeline.

Enbridge has long argued that Michigan’s propane supply would be devastated without Line 5. With the Whitmer administration’s new MI Propane Security Plan, the state is contending otherwise. 

The five-step plan includes:

  • Sending clear market signals to encourage investment in alternative propane sourcing options — including developing, repurposing or expanding other existing infrastructure to meet the state’s propane supply needs
  • Ramping up state investment in rail and propane storage infrastructure — including the investments Whitmer recommends in her Fiscal Year 2022 budget for new rail infrastructure, more storage tanks and more planning grant dollars
  • Monitoring supply and coordinating responses to potential disruptions in the energy industry via a Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) program
  • Preventing price gouging on propane so corporations can’t use the Line 5 shutdown as an excuse to raise rates, while providing energy assistance to lower income families 
  • Investing in renewable energy, energy efficiency and electrification to bring down long-term costs and transition to better energy sources

The plan involves emphases on alternative propane sourcing, better monitoring and coordinating over the state’s propane supply, heating assistance for vulnerable families, consumer protections and maximizing propane efficiency in various ways.

“Michigan can no longer bear the risk of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes that would jeopardize our work, waters, and way of life. And regardless of Line 5’s future, Michigan cannot achieve energy resilience for residents who rely on propane without alternative means of supply,” the plan reads.

Enbridge spokesperson Ryan Duffy said in an email that the new plan would actually be worse for the environment and would not adequately ensure the state’s propane needs.

“Should Line 5 be shut down, the Whitmer Administration’s recommendations would be wholly inadequate for replacing the propane or energy supply Michiganders currently depend on.  It also creates greater environmental impacts that other transportation modes present and increases costs for end-use customers,” Duffy said.

“The recommendations further fail to fully appreciate what such a propane shortage would mean for the lower peninsula, which uses 10 times the amount of propane as the U.P. The recommendations also completely ignore the critical needs of other Great Lakes States and Canada,” he continued, adding that Enbridge fully intends to continue operating Line 5 and build its replacement project.

But the MI Propane Security Plan received immediate praise from state and federal environmental organizations that oppose Line 5, including the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), Oil & Water Don’t Mix, Clean Water Action, Great Lakes Business Network and the Michigan League of Conservation Voters (LCV).

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“The MI Propane Security Plan ensures Michigan has reliable and affordable energy supplies while also aiding with the transition to more efficient and renewable options,” said Beth Wallace, Great Lakes freshwater campaigns manager for the NWF. “Despite what Enbridge Energy says, we are once again seeing there is a real plan from Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel for when Line 5 shuts down. Michiganders will be safe and secure once Line 5 shuts down.” 

Whitmer’s plan also recommends that the Legislature adopt bills to address the current lack of timely data on propane supply and storage information, as well as bills to expand fuel price-gouging protections across the board.

Price-gouging legislation was introduced, but never adopted, in the state Senate last session.

“Line 5 was given a 50-year life span, yet this infrastructure continues to age below our waterways, threatening our source of clean drinking water,” said Nick VanCourt of Barrel and Beam in Marquette, a member of the Great Lakes Business Network.

Nessel got Line 5 shut down, for now. Enviros say Whitmer can shut it down for good.

“U.P. businesses appreciate seeing alternatives to the Line 5 pipeline being proposed in this plan. We recognize that we can’t allow this oil pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac to continue to jeopardize the health of our Great Lakes,” VanCourt said.

The state of Michigan and Enbridge are currently locked in several court battles regarding the future of Line 5. In November, Whitmer directed the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to revoke and dissolve Enbridge’s 1953 easement with the state that allows the company to transport oil in the Mackinac Straits.

The revocation and termination order takes effect on May 12. But the Canadian oil company is fighting back against Whitmer and the DNR’s lawsuit enforcing that order, and is arguing in a federal lawsuit that the state has no legal basis for revoking its 1953 easement or shutting down the pipeline.

Enbridge also is attempting to remand Whitmer’s state lawsuit into federal court, a move which would be advantageous for the company should it succeed. A federal judge is currently considering that possibility; in the meantime, all related lawsuits — including Attorney General Dana Nessel’s 2019 state lawsuit to shut down Line 5 for public trust violations — remain at a standstill until a decision on that front is reached.

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, Native issues and criminal justice for the Advance. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service. When Laina is not writing or spending time with her cats, she loves art and design, listening to music, playing piano, enjoying good food and being out in nature (especially Up North).