2017-07-14 / News

Wrong Place, Wrong Pipeline; ELPC Meets To Discuss Line 5

By Sasha Zidar


The Environmental Law and Policy Center’s Michigan Advisory Council met Saturday, July 8, and Sunday, July 9, on Mackinac Island to discuss council projects. They promoted the activities of the organization at a July 8 reception at Chippewa Hotel Waterfront for Mackinac Island officials, hosted by local council members (from left) Gary Rentrop and Lorna Puttkammer Straus. With them are the Michigan Advisory Council’s senior attorney Margrethe Kearney and its executive Director, Howard Learner. The Environmental Law and Policy Center’s Michigan Advisory Council met Saturday, July 8, and Sunday, July 9, on Mackinac Island to discuss council projects. They promoted the activities of the organization at a July 8 reception at Chippewa Hotel Waterfront for Mackinac Island officials, hosted by local council members (from left) Gary Rentrop and Lorna Puttkammer Straus. With them are the Michigan Advisory Council’s senior attorney Margrethe Kearney and its executive Director, Howard Learner. The Chippewa Hotel porch offered a picture-perfect panorama of the Straits of Mackinac: sunlight glinting off fresh, blue water beneath an azure sky as a packed Star Line Ferry unloaded passengers from near and far.

It’s a scene that was viewed with concern, however, by members of the Environmental Law and Policy Center’s Michigan Advisory Council who gathered at the hotel for a Saturday, July 8, reception with members of the community. The gathering focused on a discussion of Enbridge Line 5, the 64-year-old oil and natural gas pipeline that crosses the Straits two miles west of the Mackinac Bridge.

Michigan Advisory Council members Gary Rentrop and Lorna Puttkammer Straus hosted the reception with Michigan’s Law & Policy Center Executive Director Howard Learner and senior attorney Margrethe Kearney. The environmental law organization, whose mission it to protect the environmental and natural heritage of the Midwest, advocates for the replacement or relocation of Line 5.

“It’s a platform that we all need to be aware of and they are on our side.” said Ms. Straus as she introduced Mr. Learner for a talk to the group of city, community, and business leaders.

The pipeline is part of the Enbridge Lakehead system, which brings petroleum from Canada via Great Lakes states. It crosses the Straits of Mackinac as two 20-inch lines resting on nearly five miles of lakebed. The lines, 1,000 feet apart, carry about 540,000 barrels, or 23 million gallons, of crude oil and liquid natural gas through the Straits every day.

“This is the Straits of Mackinac, a place where 42 million people rely on the Great Lakes for safe drinking water supply,” said Mr. Learner. “God forbid the pipeline breaks. It’s almost impossible to clean up. It’s full and carrying the most corrosive and potentially dangerous crude oil in the wrong place.”

Enbridge officials say the pipeline has been a vital supplier of energy products to the Great Lakes region for more than 60 years. It is “in outstanding condition because of the rigorous maintenance done through the decades. We intend to keep it that way,” said company regional director John Gaudeman in a statement to news media just prior to the release of a draft report of an alternative analysis commissioned by the State of Michigan.

The draft report suggests such alternatives as encasing the Straits portion of Line 5 in a tunnel or trenching it into the Straits floor. With release of the report, the state began a 30-day public comment period that will include a 6 p.m. hearing Thursday, July 25, at Little Bear East Arena in St. Ignace.

Mr. Lerner argues that in less than six minutes, the minimum time that it takes to shut off Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline, more than 1.5 million gallons of crude oil could be spilled into the Straits. That, he says, is a risk to bodies of water that contain 21 percent of the planet’s fresh water and supply 42 million people with drinking water.

“When it comes to the Great Lakes, that’s where we live, that’s where we work, that’s where we play,” said Mr. Learner. “In the environmental world, you earn trust.”

While his organization’s stance “isn’t anti-all pipeline,” Mr. Lerner said, “this is the wrong place, wrong pipeline, wrong company.”

“Maybe, in 1953, a reasonably proven pipeline operator would put a pipeline there,” said Ms. Kearney as part of her presentation, but “you can’t tell me operating a 64-year-old pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac today, knowing what we know about the impacts of the spill, is reasonably proven.”

During a question-and-answer session, Ms. Kearney said she believes the state has the authority to close Line 5. Studies being done now are largely seen as way of developing a record that will allow the state to take a position in favor of moving Line 5, she said.

“For a place like here, where tourism is such a large part of the economy, we can’t have a tradeoff between the environment and the economy,” Mr. Learner said. “If the Great Lakes aren’t healthy, that could be the end for the tourism economy in northern Michigan and the Island. It’s time to tell Enbridge that it is time to bring this to a close.”

He and Ms. Kearney expressed confidence in the ability of Environmental Law and Policy Center attorneys to win clean water battles. In Illinois, the organization won a court decision enforcing phosphorous discharge standards and a challenge to the discharge of superheated water into Lake Michigan, they noted.

Those at the reception expressed regret over President Donald Trump’s announcement he is considering eliminating funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative as part of his first federal budget proposal. The initiative, started in 2010, has provided more than $2.2 billion to the Great Lakes effort. This week, however, a U.S. House version of the proposed federal budget included $300 million for Great Lakes restoration and protection.

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