FLOW”s Executive Director, Liz Kirkwood, kicked off a widely publicized press event at the State Capitol in Lansing this morning, calling on Governor Snyder and state leaders to take immediate action on the Enbridge pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac. Kirkwood urged the Governor to demand that that Canadian company apply for the required authorization to operate its pipeline in the Great Lakes under the Straits of Mackinac. “The Great Lakes, including the Straits of Mackinac, are at the heart of our quality of life and economy,” she said. “In 2014, knowing what we know about the inestimable value these magnificent waters, it is unconscionable that Enbridge and the Governor are not following the law established to decide who and under what conditions uses these bottomlands and waters. The Great Lakes are owned by the State in a public trust for its citizens, and Governor Snyder, the DEQ, and our Attorney General are the lead trustees who must protect the rights of citizens who are the beneficiaries.”
Michigan passed a law in 1953 to authorize easements for pipelines for utilities, but under one condition: any easement would be subject to the public trust in the Great Lakes and all laws enacted to protect them. Enbridge took an easement in 1953 under this law and public trust. In 1955, Michigan passed the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act, which added a prohibition on use of the Great Lakes for structures by requiring an occupancy agreement and authorization. The reason for the GLSLA was that under State and U.S. Supreme Court decisions, no one could occupy the Great Lakes bottomlands and waters without an authorization based on a determination that the public trust would never be impaired. Enbridge has never complied with this law.
Now sixty some years later when Enbridge wants to increase volume and pressure, and open the door for the transport of oil derived from “tar sands” oil earmarked for mostly foreign markets, the company refuses to comply with the law. On top of this, our state leaders refuse to exercise the State’s authority as owner and trustee of the Great Lakes to protect the Great Lakes from oil pipelines. “Oil and the Great Lakes are not compatible,” Kirkwood said. “Let the matter be decided once and for in an open public forum. We saw what happened with the Enbridge oil spill in the Kalamazoo River. It cannot be allowed to happen again, not in the Straits, not anywhere in the Great Lakes. There are routes for oil pipelines around the Great Lakes, so let’s move to that alternative, until the larger questions related to the pollution from tar sands and climate change are resolved as well.”
Liz Kirkwood’s opening statement at the press event held today is printed below.
Good morning everyone. I’m Liz Kirkwood, executive director of FLOW, a Great Lakes public policy and education center. We the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign – are here today as representatives of public-interest groups, businesses, Tribes, and governments – and thousands of citizens – who are calling on Governor Snyder to take charge now and protect the Great Lakes from a catastrophic oil spill.
Two 61-year-old oil pipelines, known as Line 5, running through the Straits of Mackinac put our waters, our economy, our Pure Michigan way of life at tremendous risk. These pipelines were built by Enbridge in 1953, in state waters, on state-owned bottomlands, subject to a state easement held in public trust. As owner and trustee, the State has a ongoing duty to the public to protect the Great Lakes from harm and preserve the public’s right to use the water for drinking, fishing, swimming, boating, commercial navigation, recreation, and other uses.
Since 1999, Enbridge has been responsible for more than 1,000 pipeline oil spills in North America, including the worst inland oil pipeline spill in U.S. history; one million gallons of heavy tar sands oil into our own Kalamazoo River. This disaster was a wake-up call for Michigan. Our leaders should make sure it does not happen again- especially not in the heart of the Great Lakes.
Michigan is long overdue in applying state public trust law – specifically, the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act – to the aging Enbridge pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac. In July, 17 organizations of the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign that represent some 200,000 Michigan citizens made this request in a letter to the Governor.
The Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act requires Ebridge to submit and the state to conduct an open, public process to evaluate whether these private oil pipelines in the Straits will likely harm the state public waters and bottomlands.
Gov. Snyder has failed to act as a state trustee under this law. Instead, he continues to suggest that federal regulation is the solution for pipeline safety, ignoring his authority and role as trustee of the Great Lakes. Protecting our Great Lakes is the state’s and our leader’s — like Governor Snyder — responsibility and the law says so too.
Without obtaining an easement from the State of Michigan in 1953, Enbridge simply could not have built nor continue to operate these pipelines in state-owned waters. That is why the state retains primary authority over these oil pipelines.
These pipelines have been ignored by successive state administrations since 1953 – back when Eisenhower was president, color TV was brand new, and the Detroit Lions were champs.
To date, Gov. Snyder’s response has been to form a task force in June to study oil pipelines across the state, including Enbridge’s Line 5 in the Straits, over the next year or so. But the state task force is closed to the public and lacks a sense of urgency.
Gov. Snyder must take charge now. This is not a partisan issue, but a Great Lakes one that is more pressing than ever because:
- The State has never determined the likely risks and impacts on water, ecosystem, and communities in the event of an oil spill or release.
- Enbridge recently admitted to violated the 1953 easement by not installing the required anchoring structures every 75 feet along the pipelines.
- The state and the public have been in the dark for nearly 6 decades about the lifespan of the pipeline, petroleum products transported, and risks to our public waters.
- The Straits are the worse possible place for a spill in the Great Lakes given its unpredictability and complex currents that move water at more than 10 times greater than the flow over Niagara Falls.
We ask: When is Gov. Snyder going to enforce state law and protect the Great Lakes and our communities from a catastrophic oil spill? Thousands of Michiganders are waiting for an answer. Let’s hear from some of those concerned citizens, business owners, and community leaders now… Thank you.