Army Corps limits scope of Line 5 tunnel environmental review

By: - July 12, 2023 6:16 am

A sign in the U.P. supporting Enbridge’s Line 5 tunnel | Susan J. Demas

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has announced they will not be considering the entirety of the controversial Line 5 oil pipeline in the scope of their environmental review process for a proposed tunnel that would be built underneath the Straits of Mackinac.

In a June 28 memo, Charles M. Simon, chief of the Corps’ Regulatory Branch, said that based on federal statutes, its environmental review of Enbridge Energy’s Great Lakes tunnel project would be limited to the four-mile portion of the Line 5 pipeline that crosses the Straits.

That decision has angered environmental activists who say the pipeline’s entire 645 mile length must be considered, including a planned rerouting of a 12-mile section of Line 5 around the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa reservation in Wisconsin.

Line 5 foes want ‘broad, thorough review’ of tunnel project as Army Corps wraps public comment

Sean McBrearty is the campaign coordinator with Oil and Water Don’t Mix, which opposes the pipeline.

“It’s deeply concerning that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is backtracking on completing a thorough environmental analysis of the proposed Enbridge Line 5 oil tunnel project,” he said. “The Army Corps is wrongly discounting the Wisconsin reroute as connected to Enbridge’s oil tunnel project, instead only considering alternatives that deliver oil across the Straits of Mackinac. Severely limiting their scope of review to ignore climate considerations and forgo an independent analysis of the construction and planning is an attack on the Great Lakes and our quality of life.”

However, Simon’s memo says the two projects must be considered separately.

“Based on our review of comments submitted to date, we are not aware of any potential impacts of the proposed Tunnel Project that would extend so far as to overlap with impacts of the proposed Reroute Project in Wisconsin,” he said. “These two projects are geographically distant and would not cause impacts with additive or synergistic effects that would require consideration together as cumulative actions.”

That decision was welcomed by Enbridge Energy, which had previously expressed displeasure at the lengthy USACE timeline that will push publication of a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) to spring 2025.

Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy told the Michigan Advance that the decision to only review the four-mile stretch of pipeline was an important step in advancing the EIS process and moves the company closer to securing timely construction of the Great Lakes tunnel. 

“Enbridge believes strongly in the advantages of the tunnel to protect the environment, provide reliable energy, and bolster the regional economy for years to come,” said Duffy. “We are committed to this project, the continued safe operation of the Line 5 crossing of the Straits, and ensuring an uninterrupted supply of reliable, affordable energy to Michigan and the region.”

“Line 5’s need has been firmly established over the last 70 years. Michigan and the entire region depend on the energy that Line 5 safely delivers every day. Line 5 is a critical source of 540,000 barrels per day of natural gas liquids and crude oil for Michigan and the Great Lakes Region,” he said.

McBrearty says the decision is myopic considering the danger they believe the pipeline poses to the Great Lakes.

“The Line 5 oil tunnel stands in the way of ongoing national and state commitments to fighting the climate crisis and building out 21st century green infrastructure, and any action to extend the lifespan of this 70-year-old ticking time bomb is a fool’s errand,” he said. “The decision from the Army Corps reaffirms our call to President [Joe] Biden to revoke the presidential permit for Line 5 – we’re just one oil spill away from disaster.”


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Jon King
Jon King

Jon King is the Senior Reporter for the Michigan Advance and has been a journalist for more than 35 years. He is the Past President of the Michigan Associated Press Media Editors Association and has been recognized for excellence numerous times, most recently in 2022 with the Best Investigative Story by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters. He is also an adjunct faculty member at Cleary University. Jon and his family live in Howell.