Opinion

HAYES, DEW: Michigan Attorney General Tries To Shut Down An Oil Pipeline — Putting The Great Lakes Region At Risk

Democratic Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel campaigned on shutting down an oil pipeline those of us in the state know as “Line 5,” an important pipeline that transports crude oil and natural gas liquids to Michigan, Ohio and parts of Ontario. Now, she’s now betting on our state’s courts to help fulfill her misguided campaign pledge.

Nessel has argued that Line 5, which crosses Michigan’s Straits of Mackinac, poses too great a risk to the Great Lakes. So, late last month, she sued to close the pipeline, ignoring economic and environmental concerns raised by neighboring states, industry and union leaders, and even members of her own party.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, for example, warned that closing the pipeline would endanger “more than 1,000 good-paying union jobs” in Ohio and Michigan. He predicted increased fuel costs due to reduced capacity at two refineries that “supply a significant percent of gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel to Ohio and Southeast Michigan.”

The consul general of Canada in Detroit, Joe Comartin, echoed DeWine’s concerns, arguing that closing the pipeline would cause “severe” stress on refineries in Sarnia, Ontario, directly impacting the availability of propane for export to Michigan. When Michigan residents expressed concerns about losing a primary heating fuel, Nessel pooh-poohed their worries, saying it would only add “roughly the price of one or two pastie” — a popular Michigan meal — to their monthly energy bills.

Perhaps more to Nessel’s presumptive concern, pipelines are the safest way to transport petroleum-based fuels. But, if her legal actions are successful, suppliers would be forced to move their oil and gas by truck and train — potentially a larger environmental risk and certainly more expensive.

Nessel is carrying out this campaign despite the fact that Line 5, which is owned and operated by Canada’s Enbridge Energy, passed a federally mandated pressure test in 2017. It was also the subject of an extensive 2018 engineering study that explored alternatives to the existing pipeline. Enbridge embraced the report’s recommendation to encase the pipeline in a cement-lined tunnel 100 feet below the lakebed. They even agreed to cover the tunnel’s construction costs and then cede control of the tunnel back to the state.

Believing that it had reached an agreement with Michigan, Enbridge began planning for the construction effort. But Nessel stepped in to challenge the 2018 law that granted Enbridge the legal right to build the tunnel. She issued a formal opinion, declaring the statute unconstitutional for technical reasons, even though a Michigan judge had already upheld a different portion of the law. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer responded by suspending all state activity on the pipeline’s tunnel project.

Whitmer then briefly entered into negotiations with Enbridge in which the company agreed to cut the original 10-year construction timeline for the tunnel in half. But Whitmer refused to accept more than a two-year plan, and Nessel then imposed an additional 30-day deadline on the discussions, threatening litigation if an agreement was not reached. Facing unreasonable demands, Enbridge sued. Nessel responded by beginning legal proceedings to decommission the pipeline “as soon as possible.”

The state’s strong-arm legal tactics have rankled state leaders on both sides of the aisle. In fact, members of Nessel’s own Democratic party voiced their displeasure, cautioning that her actions could “guarantee the status quo,” potentially leaving the pipeline to operate in the lakes during the protracted litigation.

Forcing the closure of the pipeline in two years — instead of allowing Enbridge to relocate it to the tunnel in five years — will cost the region thousands of high-paying, blue-collar jobs, raise fuel prices and needlessly risk oil and gas spills along railroads and highways. These are the consequences of political gamesmanship gone too far.

Nessel may have run on a feel-good pledge to close Michigan’s energy infrastructure, but the pipeline remains an essential part of the Great Lakes region’s energy and economic makeup. It’s time for Michigan to return to the negotiating table with Enbridge Energy in good faith. It’s time for the greater good of the people — and the environment — to prevail over opportunistic political promises.

Daniel J. Dew is a legal fellow at The Buckeye Institute, a research and education institute based in Columbus, Ohio.

Jason Hayes is the director of environmental policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and education institute based in Midland, Mich.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.