Last Thursday’s unanimous ruling from a three-judge, appeals-court panel dealt another blow to Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s prolonged campaign against the existence of the Line 5 pipeline. But, as she considers continuing the campaign in the state’s Supreme Court, the people of Michigan remain stuck in a holding pattern on the cost and supply of energy they need to heat their homes and run their businesses.
For the good of the entire state, it’s time to recognize that the law, which allows Canadian energy company Enbridge to relocate the pipeline to a cement-lined tunnel 100 feet below the bed of the Great Lakes is constitutional. Nessel has argued that it’s too dangerous to leave the pipeline where it is, so relocating it to the tunnel is clearly the best option. Doing so maintains an essential piece of the state’s energy infrastructure and protects the Great Lakes by taking the pipeline out of the water. That’s a win for pretty much everyone in the state.
Furthermore, a diverse coalition of voices has asked both Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Nessel to reconsider their actions, noting that the campaign against the pipeline could have profound negative impacts on the entire Great Lakes region’s energy supply and economy. Last year, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine wrote a personal letter to Gov. Whitmer stating that closing Line 5 would impact refineries in his state, kill off “more than 1,000 good-paying union jobs” in both states and limit the supply of jet fuel that goes to the Detroit airport.
Also last year, the Operating Engineers Local 324 co-authored a letter with the Michigan Chamber of Commerce asking Gov. Whitmer to let the Line 5 tunnel project move forward. Bay City Democrat and State House Representative Brian Elder even went so far as to form a labor caucus in the Michigan House to defend Michigan’s building trade workers who would be employed to work on the tunnel. Rep. Elder worried that a lack of Democratic support for the Line 5 bill looked like a “Sierra Club scorecard means more to some Democratic members than the position of the building trades.”
Around the same time, the Consul General of Canada in Detroit, Joe Comartin, warned that the loss of Line 5 would put refineries in Sarnia, Ontario, under “severe” stress. The outcome of that stress was even discussed by Gov. Whitmer’s Upper Peninsula Energy Task Force Committee in their recent recommendations on propane supply in Michigan. The task force has euphemistically referred to the governor and attorney general’s continuing campaign to shut down Line 5 as having the potential to “disrupt” Michigan’s supply of propane. But the resources the task force have reviewed clearly recognize the potential impacts on supply and pricing of heating fuels for approximately 23,000 households across the U.P. and 300,000 homes in the Lower Peninsula.
One Michigan Public Service Commission report recognized that closing Line 5 would require propane to be trucked from Superior, Wisc. But the study appears to assume there would be sufficient volumes in Superior to supply the changes in demand without impacting prices. Even with that optimistic assumption, the study still recognized that propane prices in the U.P. could increase by 10 cents per gallon. That study also suggested that moving propane by rail, or trucking from other areas, like Kincheloe, Mich., or Sarnia would raise propane prices by as much as 35 cents per gallon. Additionally, trucking and rail supplies can be easily disrupted during the heavy snows or extreme cold that Upper Peninsula residents regularly endure. That could leave Michigan residents in the cold and dark if propane shipments were delayed.
Continuing the efforts to close the pipeline are now wasting the state’s time and money, and they ensure the pipeline remains in the water longer than it needs to rather than enclosed in the tunnel. If they are convinced the pipeline represents too great a risk to be left in the water, then why continue to stall the efforts to move it? Gov. Whitmer and Attorney General Nessel have now had two years and two chances in court to achieve their preferred policy, but have failed. It’s time to stop blocking Enbridge’s attempts to begin construction on the tunnel and let them get to work.
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