Governor Snyder surprised Michigan citizens in October when he released a plan to complete a deal with Enbridge Energy, Inc. to place the contentious Line 5 pipelines, currently in the open waters of the Straits of Mackinac, in a tunnel 100 feet below the lakebed. Michigan citizens were surprised because he was only weeks from leaving office, and the pipeline’s fate was a major campaign issue being debated by the candidates who would replace him.
In the weeks following the election, Snyder and the lame duck legislature conspired to hastily complete the deal with Enbridge and tie the hands of Governor Gretchen Whitmer, as well as Attorney General Dana Nessel, who made clear their positions that Line 5 should be decommissioned.
Some people believe the Snyder-Enbridge tunnel deal is a reasonable compromise, an answer to the majority of Michiganders demanding the state protect the Great Lakes from a disastrous oil spill. However, Groundwork and many other organizations that have been closely following the issue are opposed to the tunnel deal. Here’s why:
1) There will be NO reduction of risk to the Great Lakes for AT LEAST 10 YEARS – if ever. Snyder’s deal would guarantee Enbridge the right to continue operating the 65-year-old pipelines for another decade with no significant improvements. The pipes are dented, have had insufficient anchor supports, are missing protective coating, and have other problems. The 10-year operating period alone makes the deal too risky. The deal so carefully protects Enbridge’s right to keep the current pipelines pumping oil that many speculate Enbridge has little incentive to ever actually build a tunnel;
2) Michigan no longer needs Line 5 for its oil supply. Canadian companies are largely using Line 5 as a shortcut to move oil from Canadian oil fields to refineries in Montreal and Quebec, mainly because Canadians have been unwilling to approve a pipeline to the Canadian east coast in their own country. Michigan is being counted on to take another decade of risk – and possibly participate in a massive tunnel infrastructure project – for the primary benefit of Canadian oil producers and pipeline companies. Groundwork explained in a detailed white paper, titled Canadian Profits, Michigan Risk, why Line 5 is a bad deal for Michigan;
3) Climate change predictions make it clear that government leaders must act now to move away from fossil fuels. Line 5 is facilitating the expansion of Canadian tar sands oil, some of the world’s dirtiest, most carbon-intensive oil, and the Snyder-Enbridge tunnel deal would allow the oil to flow through Michigan as a shortcut for another 99 years. The International Panel on Climate Change and the Trump Administration’s National Climate Assessment both indicate that we must curb carbon emissions dramatically by 2030. The Line 5 tunnel would be at least a $500 million investment in a fuel source that needs to be phased out. We can no longer accept deals that harm the future of our planet’s climate.
4) Arguments describing ancillary benefits of Line 5 and a tunnel are smokescreens designed to conceal the primary purpose of the Enbridge deal – to allow a foreign corporation to continue to use our Great Lakes as a shortcut to move Canadian oil to Canadian markets. Issues of transporting propane to the Upper Peninsula and issues of transporting oil drilled in northern lower Michigan to refineries have financially viable alternatives, such as rail or trucking, or constructing new, smaller pipelines that do not cross the Straits. The argument that an oil pipeline tunnel would serve as a utility corridor for electrical cables and fiber-optic lines is a massive overbuild for a problem that could be solved with much less investment. In fact, fiber-optic cable is currently secured to the Mackinac Bridge, providing important revenue for the bridge.
5) The process for crafting and passing this tunnel deal was rushed, secretive and likely unconstitutional. Any time a deal benefiting a private, foreign corporation is negotiated behind closed doors – especially on an issue with as much public interest and natural resource importance as this – only days before a new administration with a different viewpoint is to take charge, it’s reasonable to be skeptical of the product. In fact, the legislature passed a law authorizing a new Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority before they had even seen the final contract language with Enbridge. There are procedural problems with the contracts and the legislation, as well as constitutional concerns about state funds benefiting a private, foreign corporation.
Groundwork was pleased that we were able to convince the legislature to modify Snyder’s original proposal, which would have made the Mackinac Bridge Authority responsible for overseeing the tunnel project. As a result of our swift efforts to organize a Friends of Mackinac Bridge group – which quickly swelled to more than 800 vocal citizens from across the political spectrum – the original legislation was amended to instead create a Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority.
Groundwork strongly supports Governor Whitmer’s request to have Attorney General Nessel review the law and associated Enbridge agreement and write a legal opinion. We also encourage the new administration to begin decommissioning the risky Line 5 pipelines and remove the risk of a tragic Great Lakes oil spill. Like any private entity, Enbridge has the right to pursue a tunnel option, but it should be done on a timeline that allows public review and scrutiny – with purpose and need fully described.