Tuesday's Election and Line 5. What's On Deck with Gov. Whitmer and Enbridge. There's Good News & Bad News at the Michigan Public Service Commission. All in today's This Week Monday.
Tuesday's Ballot and Line 5
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Two years ago Line 5 was on the ballot, with 2018 Republican candidates for governor and attorney general supporting Enbridge’s continued operation of Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac and the eventual Democratic winners, Gretchen Whitmer and Dana Nessel, promising to shut it down.
While the bright right Line 5 choices in Tuesday’s election are not as obvious the contest for two seats on the Michigan Supreme Court could end up being pivotal in deciding the future of Line 5. At some point, Line 5 will likely end up in front of the Michigan high court, which is now a 5-4 Republican majority. With the court split along partisan lines in stripping the governor of emergency powers under a 1945 law the court found unconstitutional, the race is getting more attention from voters. On a number of fronts, Line 5 could end up in the Supreme Court. They include Nessel’s court case seeking the decommissioning of Line 5, various state permit decisions, and a potential legal move by Whitmer to end Enbridge’s Line 5 easement (see below). All are or could be subject to legal appeals and court challenges.
There's nothing approaching certainty on how any of the seven supreme court candidates running this year would rule on Line 5. But to get a sense of where various Michigan political players are in the race check out MLive and Michigan Campaign Finance Network, which has some good reporting on how dark money is permeating Michigan’s Supreme Court race and Michigan Advance for an overview of the major party candidates that lists organizational endorsements.
A Post-Election Line 5 Decision from Governor Whitmer?
We have been waiting, waiting, waiting along with many of you for Gov. Whitmer to take action to begin shutting down Line 5. After Tuesday we may--or may not--see some movement from the governor with the anticipated release of a critically important report on Enbridge's stewardship of Line 5. In August the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) was reportedly finalizing its analysis of Enbridge’s compliance with a 1953 easement that authorizes the Canadian oil transport conglomerate to operate Line 5 in the Straits. An official finding of serious failures by Enbridge to exercise due care in operating the dangerous pipeline--which have already been independently verified--should move Whitmer to begin the process of decommissioning Line 5. As September turned into October word was the governor would be releasing the DNR report any day. But as Election Day got closer, and with Michigan a key battleground in the presidential contest, the likelihood of a report release dimmed with each passing day.
So what happens after Tuesday? The Great Lakes public policy and law organization, FLOW (For Love of Water) documented several serious easement violations in a comprehensive 2017 letter to then-Gov. Snyder following the disclosure that numerous coatings protecting Line 5 from corrosion were missing, a fact that Enbridge kept from the state. Snyder, of course, ignored the violations and Enbridge's behavior and instead inked a new deal to keep Line 5 operating in a tunnel under the Straits. But Enbridge's tunnel plan has big problems and a lengthy time horizon that leaves the Great Lakes vulnerable. Moreover, even if the oil tunnel ever gets built there are numerous financial liability and safety issues remaining over a pipeline with minimal short-term benefits and longer-term consequences for the governor's climate policy. Is Whitmer willing to continue playing Russian roulette with Line 5 and bet that Michigan's number doesn't come up with a 70-plus-year-old oil pipeline? The DNR report should provide an opportunity to shut down Line 5 before Michigan's number comes up and Whitmer's brand changes from today's Big Gretch to tomorrow's Oil Slick.
Next Steps on Line 5 Tunnel at MPSC
Jim Olson, Founder and legal advisor to FLOW, writes there was good news and bad news coming out of the Oct. 23 Michigan Public Service Commission. That’s when an administrative law judge ruled on Enbridge’s bid to escape accountability on their proposed Line 5 oil tunnel. FLOW and a number of other groups, three tribes, and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel will soon need to decide whether to appeal the judge’s ruling to the three-member MPSC commission. Enbridge can also appeal. If there’s no appeal the case is scheduled for a hearing on Feb. 12. Enbridge needs MPSC approval along with permits from the state Dept. of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build its oil tunnel in the Straits of Mackinac.
For Your Information
Some reports over the past week I found interesting...
Points North: A Discovery in the Straits
Sierra Club: The Future of Michigan Water is At Stake
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For comments, corrections, suggestions contact David Holtz at [email protected] The opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone unless I have appropriated them from others, in which case they are now mine too.--DH