This is the letter sent to Gov. Whitmer by Michigan environmental, civic leaders, Native American tribes ask state to delay Line 5 consideration during coronavirus pandemic.
April 8, 2020
Hon. Gretchen Whitmer
Governor State of Michigan
George W. Romney Building
111 South Capitol Avenue
Lansing, Michigan 48909
RE: Delay Review of Enbridge Energy Permit Tunnel Applications Due to COVID-19
Dear Governor Whitmer:
As COVID-19, the disease caused by a novel coronavirus, has spread throughout Michigan, Executive Order 2020-4 was issued on March 10, 2020, which declared a State of Emergency in Michigan to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, the virus has continued to impact Michigan severely. As of this date, the state has 18,970 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 845 people have died of the disease. Many thousands more are infected but have not been tested. As a result, on April 1, 2020, a State of Emergency and a State of Disaster have both been declared across the State of Michigan.
In light of these circumstances, we, the undersigned environmental and civic organizations representing more than 200,000 citizens throughout Michigan and the Great Lakes Basin, request that you order the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) to prioritize actions that are responsive to the COVID-19 pandemic, including its economic impact. We believe that emergency and other urgent matters relating to health, safety, financial, or security should receive the state’s full attention rather than unrelated new or pending actions requiring robust public engagement and input. Specifically, we are requesting that you use the emergency declaration to temporarily delay the review of permit applications submitted by Enbridge for the proposed Straits of Mackinac Tunnel.
We understand that EGLE and other state agencies must prioritize actions responsive to the COVID-19 pandemic and that you have directed agencies to take appropriate steps to prioritize all resources to slow the transmission of COVID-19. We appreciate that these steps have already been taken. For example, in accordance with your recommendations, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ actions designed to help slow the spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), the Michigan Departments of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy; Agriculture and Rural Development; and Natural Resources extended the public comment period for the draft Lake Erie Adaptive Management Plan. Moreover, full public engagement in permit applications is also potentially impacted by the new emergency policy limiting, and in some cases curtailing, responses to Freedom of Information Act requests to the state.
Consistent with these actions, EGLE should consider delaying review for the Enbridge permit applications for the Straits of Mackinac Tunnel Project until it has been determined emergency and disaster conditions no longer exist and appropriate programs have been implemented to allow for full and proper public engagement, as required by law.
Our goal is to ensure that all Michigan citizens in every Michigan community that are interested in participating in the public comment process have ample opportunity to offer their views on the permit applications, including at public hearings and at public information meetings. According to Executive Order 2020-21, limiting gatherings and travel, and requiring all workers who are not necessary to sustain or protect life to remain at home, a public hearing and public information meeting are not possible. The emergency declaration and force majeure provides the Administration and EGLE with the tools to delay review of permit applications until there can be meaningful public engagement, which we believe requires a delay of at least 14 days following the lifting of the state of emergency.
It should also be noted that online or internet-based meetings and submission for comments is insufficient for adequate public involvement. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), there are approximately 381,000 households in the state that don’t have access to fixed broadband internet. Of those, an estimated 368,000 are in rural areas, such as Lower Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula, who will be directly impacted by the Line 5 Straits of Mackinac Tunnel Proposal. In addition, the FCC estimates 5.74 percent of Michigan's population - 573,426 people - have no broadband providers in their area.
We know you agree on the importance of citizens to be able to participate fully in democracy through robust public involvement in important policy questions is fundamental to good governance and wise outcomes. We believe this request to temporarily delay the Enbridge tunnel permit administrative process is not only consistent with those values but necessary given the current public health and economic emergency.
We appreciate your attention to our request at this difficult time for our State.
Jane TenEyck, Executive Director
Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority
Mary Brady-Enerson, Michigan Director
Clean Water Action
Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director
For Love of Water (FLOW)
Krista Grimm, President
League of Women Voters Lake Michigan Region
Christina Schlitt, President
League of Women Voters Michigan
Kate Madigan, Director
Michigan Climate Action Network
Sean Hammond, Policy Director
Michigan Environmental Council
Bentley Johnson, Senior Partnerships Manager
Michigan League of Conservation Voters
Greg Reisig, Co-Chair
Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council
Sean McBrearty, Campaign Coordinator
Oil and Water Don’t Mix
Anne Woiwode, Chair
Sierra Club Michigan Chapter
Patty Peak, Chair
Straits of Mackinac Alliance
Joanne Cromley, Chair
Straits Area Concerned Citizens for Peace, Justice and the Environment
Jennifer McKay, Policy Director
Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council