EPA, enviro groups file last flurry of comments for Army Corps’ review of Line 5 tunnel

By: - October 18, 2022 1:22 pm

Anti-Line 5 art at the “Heart of the Turtle” international Indigenous gathering in opposition to oil pipelines, Mackinaw City, May 13, 2022

As the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Detroit District, wrapped up the first comment period Friday for its forthcoming review of Enbridge’s Line 5 tunnel project, the last flurry of comments recently filed include those from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and several prominent Michigan and Midwest environmental groups.

The EPA, the Michigan Climate Action Network (MiCAN) and the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) all recommended that USACE assess alternatives to the Line 5 tunnel while reviewing the project as a whole.

Other recommendations include those regarding environmental justice, tribal resources, climate change, impacts to endangered species and habitats and more.

USACE has had three public meetings since Aug. 15 as part of the process, which subjects the Canadian pipeline company’s proposed project to the highest level of federal environmental review. USACE will now use the public comments received over that time to frame their draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

An EIS involves a lengthy process, and was not Enbridge’s preferred development as the company had favored a less intensive form of review. The agency will next prepare a draft EIS, embark on another 60-day comment period expected in fall 2023, prepare a final EIS and establish a 30-day waiting period in summer 2024.

A record of decision is expected to be given in fall 2024 — two years from now.

Enbridge, Sti. Ignace | Susan J. Demas

For their part, MiCAN and the ELPC filed formal comments on Line 5 primarily suggesting that the agency needs to consider climate impacts and alternatives that do not cross the environmentally-sensitive Straits of Mackinac.

“This is an early stage, but the Corps has got to get this right,” said Scott Strand, senior attorney for the ELPC. “If the Corps decides now that it will not do anything more than compare the environmental risks of the tunnel with the environmental risks of the existing pipelines, the Corps will be doing both itself and the public a grave disservice.”

The existing Line 5 continues to age and attract environmental concern. The nearly 70-year-old oil pipeline originates in Northwest Wisconsin and continues for 645 miles into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, under the Straits of Mackinac and out into Canada near Port Huron.

Both the current pipeline and its proposed replacement are opposed by all 12 federally recognized tribes in Michigan and tribes in Wisconsin.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel, both Democrats, have battled with Enbridge over the last few years to have the company decommission the existing pipeline before building a tunnel-enclosed replacement. So far, Enbridge has kept the pipeline operating.

“It is the Corps’ responsibility to consider alternatives that support the demand for a rapid transition to renewable energy, not lock us into building more fossil fuel infrastructure,” said MiCAN Director Denise Keele.

“The MiCAN and ELPC comment urged the Corps to do a full life cycle analysis of greenhouse gas emissions, both the upstream emissions from oil extraction and the downstream emissions from refining and combusting the oil, and do that analysis for each alternative it considers.”

In a 29-page letter, the EPA’s Oct. 7 recommendations include:

  • Assess alternatives that examine the use of existing capacity in other pipelines and, if necessary, other transportations solutions — such as rail and truck transport of natural gas liquids — in lieu of building new pipeline infrastructure.
  • Assess alternatives that propose a connection of Enbridge’s Superior, Wisc., and Sarnia, Ontario, terminals without crossing the Great Lakes.
  • Assess a tunnel alternative that fully eliminates the risk of oil intrusion into the Straits in the event of an explosion or other pipeline damages.
  • Ensure the review analyzes potential impacts to all federally recognized tribes with tribal treaty and reserved rights in the project area, as well as impacts to resources used, relied upon or of historic cultural importance to Indigenous communities. USACE should ensure the accuracy of the information by offering outreach to those communities.
  • Assess and disclose the progress and effectiveness of MMIW (missing and murdered Indigenous women) and human trafficking prevention programs implemented by Enbridge and other pipelinecompanies; take lessons learned from the Line 3 replacement project in Minnesota to better protect Indigenous people.
  • Assess whether geotechnical and other considerations could allow for other projects with less environmental impact or risks than Enbridge’s proposed connection of the North Straits Facility to the Mackinaw Station.
  • Substantiate the need for any new construction on Line 5, considering that Enbridge has said the remaining life of all assets on the pipeline system including Line 5 extends only through 2040.
  • Ensure that the document differentiates between Enbridge’s findings and USACE’s findings related to anticipated environmental impacts and risks, as Enbridge is funding the review.
  • Evaluate the environmental impact of leaving the existing Dual Pipelines in place once decommissioned. Currently, Enbridge proposes to purge, clean and abandon them in place under the Straits.
  • Discuss whether Enbridge could or would increase the Line 5 operating pressure, given that the dual pipelines currently operate at less than 25% of maximum operation pressure capacity and any changes to this “may have implications for oil spill preparedness and response for the majority sections of Line 5.”

The EPA also mentions that in July 2020, the Michigan Department of Resources (DNR) sent a letter to Enbridge requesting that the company enter into an agreement with the state to provide financial assurances in the case of a Line 5 spill. The agreement, which would provide financial assurances to cover all damages and losses caused by a pipeline failure, was refused by Enbridge.

The EPA asks USACE to consider integrating that agreement into the review of financial assurances aspect of the project. 

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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).

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