We Need to Stop Senate Bill 1197
CALL YOUR REPRESENTATIVES NOW! Every call counts. Call especially if you live in Emmet, Cheboygan, and Mackinac Counties.
If there was ever a time to call your representatives, this is it! Use the form below to find yours and make calls like the Great Lakes depend on it - because they do. New legislation - when combined with another proposed backroom deal from the outgoing governor - has been introduced that pretends to allow Enbridge to build a "utility tunnel" through the Straits of Mackinac. If passed, it could tie the hands of our next Governor and make it much more difficult to shut down Line 5.
Let's be clear; if ever built, this would be a pipeline tunnel for Canadian oil. But most importantly, if passed the agreement and new law would let the dangerous Line 5 pipelines stay crudely suspended with retrofitted screw anchors on the bottom of the Straits for at least another decade.
What's more, there is no requirement for a tunnel to be built! The deal and legislation leave Michigan on the hook should Enbridge decide to walk away from the tunnel for any reason. If (a BIG if) they choose to build a tunnel, the decade could turn into a baker's dozen of years with pipelines swaying in the Great Lakes because the 2028 deadline can easily be extended for any reason.
This is not a tunnel agreement. It is a stall tactic to let Enbridge collect their profits by using Michigan as a shortcut for Canadian oil and endanger the Great Lakes well into the future. Not to mention, if this legislation and deal are crammed down our throats, it would make it more difficult for Governor-elect Whitmer and her shut down Line 5 campaign promise to decommission the pipeline.
So please, pick up the phone and let your rep know about this sham of a deal.
What's Really Going On?
SB 1197 does two basic things that involve the Mackinac Bridge Authority (MBA) - the independent body that operates the Mackinac Bridge:
First, it hijacks the Public Act that created the MBA in the first place so it could build the Mackinac Bridge (it can condemn land, appropriate state funds for infrastructure construction, issue bonds, etc.). SB 1197 changes the wording of the Act to add a "utility tunnel" to the MBA's duties. Cleverly worded section 5 says the tunnel is "for the benefit of the people of this state and constitute a public purpose." This is notable because this phrase gives the tunnel a designation that allows its construction to bypass any manner of environmental regulations. How convenient.
Second, what has long-time and past members of the MBA all up in arms is that the legislation forces them to give up its sole focus of watching after the Mackinac Bridge. The Authority would be required to supervise the construction, and then ownership of, this "utility tunnel" specifically for Enbridge's pipeline. In other words, the Bridge Authority would be going to work for and becoming Enbridge's landlord instead of only serving the people of the State of Michigan and our Bridge. Eight past members of the MBA issued dire warnings stating that by splitting their singular focus on the Bridge, the job they were created to do will become much, much harder and would expose the Bridge to undue risk from the financial perils of a private company.
Now, enter another proposed agreement negotiated behind closed doors between Gov. Snyder and Enbridge. There's no guarantee to actually build a tunnel, and deadlines to extend the removal of the existing Line 5 from the Great Lakes can be extended at the drop of a hat.
This proposed agreement also has several gaping loopholes for Enbridge to transfer the risk of any pipeline failure to the State of Michigan. For example, corporate equity which cannot be enforced in bankruptcy, a general liability insurance policy that the Minnesota Department of Commerce found did not cover oil spills, and a capped liability of $1.9 billion not indexed for inflation. There is a terrible financial assurance mechanism with many pro-Enbridge features to reduce their hold harmless pledge to Michigan victims of an oil spill. The icing on the cake is that these greatly weakened "financial assurances" end when and if the old pipelines are decommissioned! At precisely the moment that the bridge authority would take ownership of the tunnel and the liability, the so-called assurance mechanisms no longer exist.
The state's highly touted "don't worry, Enbridge will pay for everything" of just last week is already falling apart with the revelation that $4.5 million of taxpayer money is already being appropriated for "Mackinac Straits infrastructure projects." Isn't it convenient that Michigan laws that have appropriations attached to them cannot be repealed by voters?
THIS IS A BAD DEAL.
Even if the new legislation passes, this new third agreement needs to be ratified by the Mackinac Bridge Authority. But guess what? Gov. Snyder replaced four of the seven board members of the MBA, effective November 1, 2018, with sycophants (people that will do whatever Gov. Snyder wants - namely, vote yes on this bad deal.)
The spin from team Snyder/Enbridge is that all this will make "a safe pipeline even safer." The truth is that Enbridge is playing our Governor for a sucker because Snyder can boast that he's doing something really neat to protect the Great Lakes, but is actually placing them in greater peril. In reality, only Enbridge wins by leaving a 65, no, 75-year-old pipeline swaying in the currents while the profits from their fully-amortized pipeline continue to roll in.
A Little History
In 2005, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) tried to pull a fast one and wrest independence away from the Mackinac Bridge Authority so they could raid the funds the MBA had in the bank. Lawmakers at the time knew that was a bad deal, so legislation was introduced, and then unanimously passed, to reaffirm the MBA as an independent body with a sole focus of looking after the Bridge.
It turns out that 18 Senators and Representatives who voted for MBA independence in 2005 are still in office. They may be particularly receptive to a phone call thanking them for doing the right thing then, and asking them to vote down this bill now. The potential heroes of this story are S. Bieda, D. Booher, J. Brandenburg, J. Emmons, G. Hansen, D. Hildenbrand, M. Hood, H. Hopgood, J. Hune, R. Jones. J. Marleau, M. Nofs, P. Pavlov, J. Proos, D. Robertson, T. Rocca, and T. Schuitmaker.
The Final Act
With the exception of the self-proclaimed 'One Tough Nerd' (that's Gov. Snyder), all five previous Michigan Mackinac Bridge governors have rightfully respected the independent Mackinac Bridge Authority as caretakers of the Mighty Mac. Michigan's icon is what it is today because of 61 years of stellar management and a politic-free singular focus.
For five years the public and independent experts have called for the decommissioning of Line 5. Even after a near-brush with an anchor-induced disaster as foretold in his own set of reports occurred last spring, our spineless leader was unaffected.
Instead of acting with the urgency required, the long game by this administration is becoming clear. Concoct a sham advisory board to study instead of act. Delay, posture, and negotiate behind closed doors. And then at the 11th hour of his dubious reign, rush to change the makeup of the Mackinac Bridge Authority and introduce what is surely Enbridge-written legislation into a Lame Duck session where it can be written into law away from the prying eyes of the public. All gift-wrapped for the world's largest and highly-leveraged foreign oil pipeline company and their filthy, water-spoiling, carbon-intensive, climate-killing oil.
We may never know what's in it for Snyder and anyone else that will vote to pass this dangerous legislation and let the sell-out to Enbridge go through. What we do know is that they are willing to bargain away both Michigan's most significant asset and most precious resource to get it.