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LANSING – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has requested a legal opinion from Attorney General Dana Nessel regarding the constitutionality of the recent Enbridge Line 5 pipeline legislation and the new Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority created by outgoing Gov. Rick Snyder.
“Resolving any legal uncertainty regarding PA 359: the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority, and action taken by the authority is necessary to assure that we can take all action necessary to protect the Great Lakes, protect our drinking water and protect Michigan jobs,” Whitmer said. “I pledged to take action on the Line 5 pipeline on day one as governor, and I am holding true to that campaign promise.”
The Enbridge Line 5 tunnel runs across Michigan from Superior, Wisconsin, to Sarnia, Ontario, carrying oil and gas across the state. During the 2018 lame duck period, former Gov. Snyder reached an agreement with Canadian energy company Enbridge to decommission the 65-year-old pipeline that runs through the water in the Straits of Mackinac with a bedrock-reinforced tunnel. Its aim would be to provide stricter protections for the section of pipeline that sits in the water. It’s estimated to cost between $350 million and $500 million and expected to take up to 10 years to complete. Enbridge has agreed to pay for the tunnel’s design, construction, operation and maintenance for up to 99 years.
The newly created Straits Tunnel Authority — an independent state agency that oversees operation of the Mackinac Bridge and would own the tunnel, leasing space to Enbridge — agreed to move forward with the project on Dec. 19 of last year.
In a Bridge Magazine report by Jim Malewitz, Heidi Grether, Director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, said that the the tunnel would do much to eliminate the potential oil leaks, as well as provide the ability to house infrastructure like electrical lines and broadband cables.
“This solution offers the greatest possible safeguards to Michigan’s waters while maintaining critical connections to ensure Upper Peninsula residents have the resources they need,” Grether said. “This historic agreement will result in eliminating nearly every risk of an oil leak in the Straits.”
The report also quoted Enbridge officials as saying that beyond stymieing the chance of leaks, the tunnel would “eliminate the potential for an anchor strike.” Last April, a ship’s anchor made three dents in the existing pipeline running through the Straits. Though Enbridge officials emphasized that the dents did not impact the normal function of the pipeline, the news re-energized environmental activists to push for a total shutdown of Line 5 due to the potentially catastrophic nature of an oil leak in the straits which could cost the state billions of dollars. Oil and Water Don’t Mix, a coalition of environmental activist groups opposed to the pipeline, cited that almost 23 million gallons of oil flow through the pipeline daily and that during the several-year project to build the tunnel the chances of a leak would increase. The Bridge report also said that if electrical lines were routed through the oil-carrying tunne that the chances of an explosion would increase.
“Pipelines do not belong in the Straits of Mackinac, period,” said Coordinator of Oil and Water Don’t Mix Sean McBrearty in a 2018 Detroit Free Press Report by Keith Matheny. “Our state’s economy, tourism and way of life revolves around keeping our Great Lakes in a pristine condition. There’s simply too much at stake to keep Line 5 in operation.”
Both Nessel and Whitmer have been vocal about their support of a Line 5 shutdown. Currently, Nessel’s opinion on the issue is pending, though she has been vocal about her Line 5 environmental concerns.
“There are serious and significant concerns regarding PA 359, which the previous governor and legislature initiated and passed without the care and caution one would expect for an issue that will have a monumental impact on our state,” Nessel said in a statement. “Gov. Whitmer has rightly – and immediately – raised important questions about the legality and statutory underpinnings of this Act and my office is prepared to tackle her request for an opinion immediately. I encourage any interested or concerned party to forward a brief or legal memo on the issues raised by the opinion request.”
Nessel added that, “Those who stand to benefit from this Act” should “take heed that this request raises serious legal concerns. In no way should any entity rely on this Act to move forward unless and until these matters have been resolved.”