Laina G. Stebbins
Tribal citizens and environmental groups in Michigan are preparing for “Enbridge eviction” celebrations this week in honor of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Wednesday deadline for the Canadian oil company to shut down its controversial Line 5 pipeline.
At the same time, Enbridge allies are gearing up for the deadline by arguing the 68-year-old pipeline has a positive economic impact. The nonprofit Consumers Energy Alliance — a front group for the energy industry that pushes pro-oil and gas messaging in the United States, according to SourceWatch — released a report Monday arguing that a Line 5 shutdown would devastate energy supplies of surrounding states.
The two days of planned events near the Mackinac Straits on Wednesday and Thursday are being organized by Indigenous water protection group MackinawOde, Great Lakes Water Protector Group and the Oil & Water Don’t Mix coalition.
Nathan Wright, a citizen of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and a core member of MackinawOde, says the two days are meant to honor Indigenous peoples’ connection with the water while continuing to protest Enbridge’s presence in the Straits.
In November, Whitmer set a deadline of May 12 for Enbridge to cease operation of the pipeline while ordering the company’s 1953 easement with the state to be revoked and terminated. Michigan and Enbridge are currently entangled in several court disputes regarding the shutdown order, and a final ruling is unlikely to happen before Wednesday.
Although the order will still take effect Wednesday, a court order will be needed to enforce the shutdown as Enbridge has said it will not comply voluntarily.
“Everyone knows that this is probably the most critical moment that we’ve ever had with Line 5. And this could go either way,” Wright said. “… We have to put — I don’t want to say ‘pressure,’ but we have to bring awareness, not only to our state and tribal leaders, but also to the community about this issue right now to get more people involved.”
There are traditional Anishinaabek ceremonies taking place on Wednesday, the day of Whitmer’s deadline, to demonstrate the tribes’ connections to the water. The Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians (LTBB) is the primary tribe participating. Activities at the McGulpin Point Lighthouse will include sunrise ceremonies, a treaty plant walk led by Wright, art printing and a potluck meal. Sunrise ceremonies will also be held across the Straits at Point La Barbe in St. Ignace.
Thursday’s events will be in Mackinaw City and will feature Indigenous speakers, musicians and more. Thursday will begin with traditional pipe ceremonies followed by a walk to the Line 5 “eviction location” at the Straits.
After a break for lunch, attendees will then gather at the Conkling Heritage Park for live music and speakers.
Winona LaDuke is slated for the keynote speaker role. She is the director of Indigenous environmental group Honor the Earth, a vocal activist against oil pipelines, including Enbridge’s Line 3 in Minnesota, and a former Green Party vice presidential candidate.
Like Line 5, Line 3 is also fiercely opposed by surrounding tribes. Since the pipeline reroute was approved last year, Enbridge began construction in Minnesota and local Indigenous activists pushed back.
That pushback has provoked police presence and has led to the arrest of activists at Line 3 construction sites. Wright acknowledged the contentious situation in Minnesota, but said he is more concerned about Enbridge’s actions in Michigan than local police.
“We’re pretty confident that the police in the area know us very well to be peaceful. … We’re concerned with Enbridge and their past behavior,” Wright said. “We are concerned [and] we are taking security precautions, all of them in a peaceful manner.”
Those precautions, Wright said, will include officials from the LTBB acting as designated security to patrol the area.
New report echoes Enbridge’s warnings against shutdown
In the meantime, Enbridge’s allies are preparing for the Wednesday deadline by releasing a report in opposition of a possible shutdown.
The economic analysis, commissioned by the pro-extractive energy industry group Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA), claims that shutting down Line 5 could cause “at least” 33,000 job losses and $20.8 billion in economic losses across four states.
The report was prepared by the North Texas economic firm Weinstein, Clower & Associates. The authors argue that the possibility of higher fuel prices resulting from a Line 5 shutdown could cause billions in losses in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania.
They also claim that Whitmer’s proposed shutdown “has little to do with safety and much to do with politics,” and argued it also would violate international agreements. Enbridge has argued along similar lines in court filings opposing Whitmer’s actions.
Environmental groups immediately slammed the Monday report as “propaganda.”
“The Consumers Energy Alliance is nothing more than a front group carrying Enbridge’s water and pushing grossly exaggerated and unfounded claims,” said Beth Wallace, Great Lakes campaigns manager for the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). “The facts are that Line 5 has been neglected, is not critical infrastructure for Michigan and this location is the worst possible place for an oil pipeline.”
The anti-Line 5 Oil & Water Don’t Mix coalition said Monday that the report “should have had a consumer warning label attached.”
“It raises unfounded fears about Gov. Whitmer’s shutdown order for Enbridge’s Line 5 and ignores the impact of a pipeline failure in the Great Lakes,” said campaign Coordinator Sean McBrearty.
“A spill from Line 5 at the Straits of Mackinac could deliver a blow of over $6 billion in impacts and natural resource damages to Michigan’s economy, according to a study commissioned by FLOW [For Love of Water]. … While this astroturf group’s report claims it is Ohio — not Michigan — that will bear the brunt of a Line 5 shutdown economic impact, even that conclusion seems largely based on anecdotal stories from biased sources with an agenda to keep Line 5 operating,” McBrearty added.
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