The Michigan Democratic Party ran an ad in the New York Times last week that was a response to a Republican ad that ran last week. The Times ad was a response to a Republican ad from October. The GOP ad was a response to a Democratic ad from September. It’s a simple cycle that often plays out in politics, but the fact that the Michigan Democrats are just now responding to a Republican ad is as curious as it is amusing.
In a new blow to the state’s largest oil and natural gas producer, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality issued the company a letter saying that it was violating permit conditions that require drilling to be at a minimum distance from homes. The DEQ said that it has been monitoring chemicals from the company’s operations since last fall, and on Friday it said that it found “evidence of air emissions at levels in excess of those that would be expected to cause potential health impacts to nearby residents.”
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer delivers her virtual State of the State address the state in Lansing, Mich., Jan. 27.
Michigan Office of the Governor/Associated Press
The cyber attack on the Colonial Pipeline has led to surging gasoline prices on the East Coast. But that isn’t stopping Michigan Gov.
from trying to shut down another crucial pipeline, no matter the harm across the Midwest and Canada.
Line 5 transports more than half a million barrels a day of oil and natural gas liquids through Canada and the Great Lakes region. Late last year Ms. Whitmer moved to revoke and terminate an easement that lets the pipeline operate for 4.5 miles across the Straits of Mackinac. She’s seeking a state court injunction to force Enbridge to shut down Line 5 and “permanently decommission” the pipeline.
Ms. Whitmer claims Enbridge has created an “unacceptable risk of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes that could devastate our economy and way of life.” But the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the federal regulator that oversees Line 5, said in January that it is “presently aware of no unsafe or hazardous conditions that would warrant shutdown of Line 5.”
No mode of moving energy is risk-free, but pipelines are much safer than rail. Enbridge says that over two decades Line 5 has seen five incidents that resulted in the release of 882 gallons of product. Compare that to the 2013 Lac-Mégantic disaster, where a train carrying oil derailed, spilling some 1.6 million gallons and causing an explosion that killed some 47 people.
Enbridge is seeking permits to build a new pipeline to replace Line 5, but the project is years from completion. Consumer Energy Alliance, an advocacy group, says a shutdown of Line 5 could cause propane shortages in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and Midwestern farmers could face rising costs for diesel fuel and more. A report by the group found that, even by conservative estimates, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana would lose more than 33,750 jobs and $265.7 million in annual state tax revenue from the pipeline’s closure.
Refineries in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania would lose much of their crude oil supply. United Steelworkers Local 912 President
has warned that closing Line 5 would jeopardize the Toledo Refining Company, which isn’t equipped to receive oil by truck. The result would be a “devastating loss of income” for nearly 350 union workers and “further economic collapse of the Northern Ohio/Southern Michigan economy,” he said.
Ms. Whitmer is also causing a foreign policy flap. A 1977 treaty between the U.S. and Canada bars a “public authority in the territory of either” signatory nation from taking actions that would have the effect of “impeding, diverting, redirecting or interfering with in any way the transmission of hydrocarbon in transit” by pipeline between the two countries. The treaty makes exceptions for emergencies or natural disasters and temporary shutdowns for safety concerns, but not for gubernatorial whim.
The Canadian government raised these treaty concerns this month in an amicus brief filed in U.S. federal court. Refineries in Ontario depend on the pipeline, and so does the Toronto Pearson International Airport for jet fuel. “A Line 5 shutdown would severely disrupt the supply and increase the price consumers pay for fuel across Quebec and Ontario,” the Canadians argued, adding that “in western Canada, the loss of Line 5 would have a devastating impact on the industry and economy.”
Enbridge has kept the pipeline open and is counter-suing in federal court. But Ms. Whitmer’s pipeline war is a reminder that for today’s progressives, fossil fuels are enemy number one no matter the economic cost.
Potomac Watch: Infrastructure talks are in trouble because unions won’t give up the PRO Act. Image: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images
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Appeared in the May 22, 2021, print edition.