FLOW supports attorney general’s process and opinion, which is binding on state agencies and rejects the fatally flawed law and undermines side agreements on Enbridge oil pipelines, proposed tunnel in Mackinac Straits
In a major step toward restoring the rule of law, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel issued an opinion today declaring unconstitutional a hastily crafted law that sought to give away Great Lakes public trust bottomlands to Enbridge for 99 years for a private oil tunnel, while allowing the aged, dangerous existing “Line 5” oil pipelines in the Straits to continue operating for another decade as the tunnel is considered and possibly built.
The move comes in response to a formal requestby Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and is critical to unpacking the layers of problems with the law creating the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority that the lame-duck legislature rushed through in late 2018.
“We applaud Attorney General Nessel for clearly recognizing the legislative overreach, restoring the rule of law, and stopping the attack on the Great Lakes and the state constitution, which demands that the state’s air, water, and natural resources are treated and protected as ‘paramount,’” said Liz Kirkwood, an environmental attorney and Executive Director of FLOW (For Love of Water), a Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City.
The attorney general’s opinion on Public Act 359 is binding on state agencies and voids the tunnel agreement called for by the law, and also nullifies the legal effect of the side agreements reached between the state of Michigan under then-Gov. Rick Snyder and Line 5-owner Enbridge. Those agreements allowed continued oil pumping through the Straits, where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron, and an easement and 99-year lease of Great Lakes public bottomlands to Canadian-based Enbridge for private control of the tunnel for its own gain.
Public Act 359 and the related agreements for a tunnel and continued use of the existing, flawed Line 5 were not authorized under the standards of public trust law; the state and Enbridge flouted the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act (GLSLA) that requires transfers and agreements for occupancy of the soils of under the Great Lakes by trying to avoid and ignore this most basic law and public trust principles.
Public Act 359 and the side agreements are peppered with other serious problems, most of which are covered by the questions the Governor asked the Attorney General to answer, which include:
Adding the tunnel and corridor authority to the 1952 law that created the Mackinac Bridge Authority goes far beyond the original public purpose to build a public bridge;
Establishing a term for members of the board of the corridor authority that exceeds the 4-year limit under Article III of the Michigan Constitution;
Violating provisions of the state constitution that prohibit fostering private or special purposes, the commingling of the government to aid primarily private projects, the appropriation of public property for private purposes, and the entanglement of the credit and taxpayers of the State for primarily private purposes.
“We hope this critical first step by theAttorney General will be followed by an immediate and full review of the Snyder administration’s and agencies’ deliberate evasion of the rule of law and mishandling of the grave and continuing risks of the existing Line 5, and the real and imminent threat to the Straits of Mackinac, towns and cities like Mackinac Island, tribal fishing interests, private property interests, businesses, and the rights of the public in the soils and waters of the Great Lakes,” said Olson.
FLOW recommends that Gov. Whitmer take immediate action to end the massive threat posed by the existing Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac in a swift and orderly fashion based on the rule of law under our state constitution, statutes, and the public trust doctrine in the Great Lakes, including by:
Acknowledging that State of Michigan agencies are bound by the attorney general’s opinion.
Sending a letter to Enbridge indicating that the company should decide for itself, if it wants to build a new oil tunnel, and apply, if it chooses under the Great Lakes to construct a tunnel under the rule of law. The rule of law requires a full consideration of the risk to the paramount public rights in the soils and waters of the Great Lakes, and a showing that the company has no prudent and feasible alternatives to using the Great Lakes as a shortcut for western Canadian oil on its way to refineries in eastern Canada as well as overseas markets.If the company does not chose to do this, or cannot satisfy these mandatory requirements that protect the Great Lakes, then it should choose to use other parts of its several-thousand mile system.
Starting the process to decommission the 66-year-old Line 5 pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac, which are operating without lawful authority, in violation of the public trust and GLSLA, and in violation of their 1953 easement granted by the state. If Enbridge chooses to continue operating the existing Line 5 in the future, it can apply under the GLSLA for new authority to continue using Line 5 if it can demonstrate little risk and no feasible and prudent alternative to the unacceptable existing Line 5, but the state is not obligated to agree.
“Public Act 359, coupled with the State’s public entanglement with Enbridge, has put private gain and economic interests above the State’s and public’s paramount trust interest in the waters and soils of the Great Lakes,” said Olson. “The unconstitutional law and entangled state and Enbridge agreements represent one of the largest, if not largest, threats in the state’s history to the state’s ownership and public trust duty to protect the public’s rights and uses from private takeover or harm to the Great Lakes.”
On its 61st birthday, the Mackinac Bridge faces its biggest threat to date
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE November 1, 2018
Contact: Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director Email: [email protected]
FLOW (For Love of Water) Office: (231) 944-1568, Cell: (570) 872-4956
TRAVERSE CITY, MI – The use of the legal powers of the Mackinac Bridge Authority (MBA) to facilitate an oil tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac, as proposed by outgoing Gov. Rick Snyder in a secretly negotiated deal with Enbridge Energy Partners, violates environmental provisions of Michigan’s Constitution and laws, threatens the fiscal integrity of the MBA and its Mackinac Bridge, and could subject the authority and taxpayers to billions of dollars of liability in the event of a tunnel accident, FLOW said today in a letter to members of the authority.
FLOW called on the MBA to reject the proposed public-private partnership, or any other agreement with Enbridge, for the proposed tunnel or other privately owned utilities. The MBA Board on November 8 in St. Ignace will, for the first time, hold a public meeting to learn about and discuss its proposed role in the Snyder-Enbridge agreement that’s been hashed out covertly by Gov. Snyder for at least a year. Snyder in recent months has stacked the MBA Board with a majority that shares his tunnel vision.
“In law and practice since the day the Mackinac Bridge opened on November 1, 1957, exactly 61 years ago today, the MBA and the bridge have been jealously protected as a completely independent and stand-alone entity,” said FLOW Founder and President Jim Olson, who is an environmental attorney. “The bridge was a singular, and wholly public, state project for its citizens and the general motoring public connecting the people of both peninsulas. A key provision of the Snyder-Enbridge deal would do just the opposite. It demands that the MBA agree to and participate in a ‘public-private partnership,’ which is vastly different from a state-sponsored project for a singular public purpose like transporting the citizens and general public.”
The Snyder-Enbridge deal provides that the MBA would own the proposed oil tunnel and lease it to Enbridge for 99 years. However, while a lease in theory could provide for indemnification of the MBA for any liabilities, damages, or losses, these are only contractual assurances and will not prevent the MBA from being held liable for any occurrences, including catastrophic damages and losses, as owner and overseer of the project and its operation for essentially a private function. In essence, the MBA’s protection through such contractual promises is a fantasy.
“The MBA should postpone any hasty decisions that dilute its single-purpose mission to protect and maintain the Mackinac Bridge and that burden this authority for the next century to take ownership responsibility for a risky private tunnel venture,” FLOW wrote.
FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood observed, “Enbridge has other alternatives not threatening the Great Lakes that this foreign corporation can and should use its own financial resources and borrowing power to apply for the necessary lands, authorizations, and permits to implement those options.”
Michigan’s legislature enacted the Mackinac Bridge Authority in 1952 for the express and singular purpose of building, maintaining, and operating the Mackinac Bridge. The bridge was opened for traffic on November 1, 1957. To this public end, the MBA has operated for more than six decades as an independent authority designed to be free from outside influence and political pressure. Each of Michigan’s governors since that time has appointed members to the MBA who have fiercely defended its independence. The MBA’s singular mission is to maintain and govern this iconic infrastructure that spans and unites our Michigan peninsulas.
In 2004, the Michigan Department of Transportation sought to increase the control of over the MBA and its engineering, finances, and employees. In response, the state legislature voted the next year in unanimous, bipartisan fashion (107-0 in the house, 38-0 in the senate) to amend to the MBA law to prohibit state government interference. The 2005 amendment expressly directs that the MBA and its core tasks must be kept “independent” and free of interference by state agencies and officials.
“The principle of MBA independence, so critical to lawmakers for six decades, is too important to be cast aside by a lame-duck governor in the waning weeks of his administration,” Olson said.
The MBA’s stand-alone powers also do not satisfy the modern legal regime designed to protect the public interest and public trust resources. For example, the MBA Act exempts the actions of the authority to transfer public lands, bottomlands, and construct the bridge from “any approvals required from state boards or agencies.” However, using the MBA Act to authorize Great Lakes oil tunnel construction would be inconsistent with the mandates, policies, and standards of the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act; Article 4, Sec. 52 of the state’s 1963 Constitution; the 1970 Michigan Environmental Protection Act; and the 2002 Michigan statute banning oil and gas drilling under the Great Lakes.
The waters of the Great Lakes and the lands beneath them are held in and protected by a public trust, Kirkwood explained. “The public trust doctrine means that the state holds these waters and soils beneath them in trust for the public for the protection of preferred or dedicated public trust uses of navigation, fishing, boating, swimming, bathing, drinking water, and other recreation, said Kirkwood, an environmental attorney. “As a general rule, there can be no disposition, transfer, conveyance, occupancy, or use of any kind of these public trust waters and the soils beneath them, unless there is a statute authorizing this and the action predominantly serves a public interest, not a private one.”
Michigan Senator Gary Peters, ranking member of a Senate committee overseeing hazardous pipelines, held a public hearing in Traverse City, Michigan Monday, ground zero in a race to turn off Enbridge’s 65-year old Line 5 before it spills millions of gallons into the Straits of Mackinac and blackens the water, life, and economy of the Upper Great Lakes. Senator Peters called the hearing to open an investigation and find solutions to reform a patchwork of ineffective federal regulations that lack authority and power to shut down pipelines that threaten the health and safety of residents, businesses, schools, and communities across the country. What better place to start than Line 5 in the heart of the Straits and Great Lakes?
Senator Peters convened two panels: one made up of an Enbridge upper-level executive and federal officials from the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), the Coast Guard emergency response team, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); the other filled with representative leaders from conservation, labor, and business across the region. After their testimony and questioning from a well-prepared, sometimes passionate Senator Peters, and applause from a sympathetic audience, the message was clear—we need legal reforms, and we need them now, to fix the holes and fragmentation in current regulations.
Monday’s public hearing may well be the tipping point to turn off the rush of 23 million gallons a day through a pipeline that is outdated and failing the dictates of its original design. It may also be the year of reckoning for the Snyder Administration’s and Attorney General Schuette’s game of footsie with Enbridge that has, in my opinion, imprudently gambled the soul of our state’s water, life and economy by helping Enbridge keep Line 5 open for gushing crude oil from Alberta to Sarnia far too long. Here’s why.
After four years of state task forces, boards, studies and exercises to clean up a mock spill, nothing has happened except permission to Enbridge to keep Line 5 going at full tilt. During this same time, National Wildlife Federation, FLOW, the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, and other tribes and organizations have filed compelling scientific, technical, and legal analyses and reports that have more than documented what is now obvious: Crude oil in Line 5 in the Straits and over or near tributaries that flow to Lake Michigan and Lake Huron constitutes what is known in the hazardous risk industry as a “Tier 1″ risk. It must be avoided, and reasonable alternatives exist– that is, Line 5 in the Straits or waters of the Great Lakes is not essential for Canada, Enbridge, or Michigan and its residents.
A “Tier 1″ risk means that the magnitude of harm is so devastating or grave, that principles of risk management require those responsible to implement both a temporary and a long-term solution that removes and avoids the risk entirely. In plain terms, this means that if there is an alternative to a pipeline that is unacceptable under any circumstances, the alternative must be implemented, as long as it reasonably achieves the overall purpose of avoiding the risk and allowing a means through some other route to continue transporting crude oil.
In the last four years, it has become clear, as reinforced by Senator Peters at the start of the hearing, that the Straits is “the worst place for an oil pipeline in the Great Lakes,” and that we must find a way to take hold of this unacceptable risk and end it. For example, strong currents have continuously scoured the rocks and soil under the heavy pipeline designed to lay on the bottom of the lakebed; in an attempt to patch a failing design, Enbridge, with the help of Michigan’s DEQ, has been able to install anchor supports to elevate the line above the lakebed since 2001 as a “repair,” with little to no notice to the public. There are now 150 supports holding up the line, and an application to the DEQ for 48 more. That means nearly three miles or one-third of the original design has been totally changed, and the stage is set for more and more “repairs” without any application, determination, and legal authorization as required for altered and new pipeline designs or structures on the bottomlands of the Great Lakes under our Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act. If our leaders forced Enbridge to apply for new authorization of this serious, never-before-reviewed change, Enbridge would have to show no “Tier 1″ risk and no alternative– finally, the substance and risk and fate of the Straits and Great Lakes and citizens would be under the rule of law.
Also, in the last four years, strategic organizing from Oil and Water Don’t Mix, a consortium of organizations like Groundwork Center, Michigan Environmental Council, Sierra Club, the tribes, Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council, and many others have fostered tens of thousands of letters, public comments, all urging state leaders to end this catastrophic risk that puts oil above the state’s and its citizens’ paramount interest and public trust in water and the Great Lakes.
Nearly 70 communities have passed resolutions calling for decommissioning or ending the flow of oil in Line 5, as have approximately 15 tribes and tribal organizations. This has led to a Pipeline Advisory Board questioning the lack of action by the state, conflicts of interest in a risk study, and questioning whether Line 5 should be allowed to continue in light of reasonable adjustments and alternatives elsewhere within Enbridge’s larger system.
Then, last fall, Governor Snyder announced he’d signed an agreement with Enbridge that allows Enbridge to pick an option to replace Line 5 with a new line in the Straits. In other words, Enbridge was given the green light to replace Line 5, continue Line 5 in the Straits until the replacement was operational in seven years, and avoid the rule of law.
No wonder Senator Peters held the hearing to launch a process to find out why the federal regulatory framework hasn’t done more. As urged by the Senator and agreed to by other panelists at the hearing, the Straits and Great Lakes demand a far more responsive legal framework than PHMSA safety code inspections and wrist slapping or Coast Guard after-the-fact response and cleanup actions. And it’s not just the Great Lakes. There are thousands of miles of crude oil pipelines and thousands of communities, lakes, streams, groundwater, drinking water and other sensitive environments that have been damaged or are threatened.
We need go no farther than the 2010 Enbridge Kalamazoo River rupture and disaster or the Deep Horizon debacle in and along the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico.
Based on the testimony of the panelists and careful questioning of Senator Peters, here is what the record looks like and what we might expect to address Line 5 and many other oil pipeline risks across the United States and, hopefully, beyond our borders.
First, after accidents like the anchor strike that broke the utility line, released pollutants into the Straits and was reported by Enbridge to have dented Line 5, inspections by PHMSA review the company’s evaluation and self-reporting, and the Coast Guard completes assessments of conditions and response actions only after a spill of pollutants. As it turned out, PHMSA did not independently inspect the dents. The Coast Guard has no jurisdiction except to respond to the spill of the pollutant from the utility line. Fortunately, an assessment and inspection performed 2.5 weeks later revealed a “gouge,” not just a dent.
Second, while PHMSA has legal authority to force shutdown of a pipeline, it has never ordered one decommissioned and removed. The state, through its public trust authorities, has the power to do so, but so far, it seems, has done everything possible not to shut down Line 5.
Third, Enbridge and others maintain that the Great Lakes and Line 5 are not “offshore” hazardous or crude oil pipelines, and are not regulated as strictly as offshore lines and oil wells. The U.S and Michigan supreme courts have consistently ruled that the Great Lakes are seas, like the oceans, and subject a high-degree of protection under the public trust doctrine.
Fourth, PHMSA has not certified the Great Lakes as a critical “environmentally sensitive” area that would impose, at least, stronger safety measures, inspections, or assessments.
Fifth, inspections and assessments are not “hands-on” and are often delayed or too late to quickly determine the gravity of the condition of a pipeline.
Sixth, there is no legal process under federal law or regulations that comprehensively regulates, assesses, and determines whether to shut down high risk pipelines– those that have failed or those in sensitive areas like the Great Lakes. So, while most states, like Michigan, have the authority to locate or terminate high risk pipelines, particularly where they are old, failing, and alternatives exist, the federal government has no framework to do much at all.
Senator Peters has done a great service, and his Senate Commerce Committee needs to carry the day by continuing, as directed by the senator, to record and investigate. The goal should be to establish a framework for the Senate, with the help of experts and citizens, to find a way to overhaul these laws and rules that are supposed to protect the public. For starters, here are some suggestions:
Amend federal laws, such as the Clean Water Act or the PHMSA authorizing law, to establish an authority for the certification of oil and other hazardous liquid or materials pipelines.
New pipelines would have to go through an application, hearing, full transparent information and disclosure, evaluation and study process to determine the risk, potential impacts and damage based on a true “worst case scenario,” and the full range of feasible and prudent alternatives.
Old pipelines, say older than 40 years, or less if beyond their “useful safe lifeline” would have to apply for certification, showing that they do not involve high risks or catastrophic harm or serious impacts based on a worst case scenario, and if the risk is high, they must be shut down if there exists a feasible and prudent alternative or the operation if continued could result in a high-magnitude of harm to the public health, safety, and welfare.
New pipelines proposed for the Great Lakes or equivalent paramount public trust waters or natural resources are prohibited.
Owners and operators of old pipelines in, over, or under the Great Lakes or equivalent public trust waters and natural resources must apply for certification and a determination that there is no feasible and prudent alternative with reasonable adjustments to other routes, design capacities, and locations within the overall crude oil pipeline system and logistics; if there is no feasible and prudent alternative, there would be a determination of remaining “useful life” and that the risks are less than a “Tier 1″ based on a competent credible worst case scenario.
All applications, and supporting materials would be public records and made available, all applications would be subject to public hearings, comments, and testimony by all interested persons and members of the public, and there would be direct citizen suit enforcement similar to that in the Clean Water Act.
All applications would be subject to the National Environmental Policy Act environmental impact statement process.
Federal agencies involved would cooperate with state agencies, including shared jurisdictional and information agreements, and the federal process would not preempt or supplant the state process. State proceedings involving use or potential impact to their sovereign water and other natural resources, or public trust interests in those resources, would not be preempted and could impose more stringent standards or otherwise reserve the state’s property power and public trust in its waters and natural resources to prohibit any existing or proposed new pipeline (which is the law in Michigan and other states today).
Jim Olson, President and Founder
In short, thank you, Senator Peters and the Senate Commerce committee, and those panelists who participated in the hearing Monday: It is far better to remove these regulatory holes with a comprehensive approach to prevent unacceptable risks entirely than to face the catastrophe of a gaping hole in Line 5 in the Great Lakes or other high-risk lines across the country.
Proposed “Line 5” Oil Pipeline Tunnel Under the Mackinac Straits Ignores Looming Disaster, Locks in Decades of Risk
Enbridge’s Snyder-commissioned tunnel report released today is a dead-end for the Great Lakes and Pure Michigan economy
A Canadian oil transport company would be assured billions of dollars in more profit, while the Great Lakes and Michigan’s tourist economy would face decades of more risk of an oil spill disaster from a new Line 5 pipeline tunnel or trench under the Mackinac Straits, as envisioned in a self-serving report released today by Line 5-owner Enbridge and commissioned by Gov. Rick Snyder.
“Citizens and leaders in Michigan agree that you wouldn’t approve an oil pipeline like Line 5 today given the extraordinary risk to our globally unique Great Lakes,” said FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood, an environmental attorney and a co-leader of the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign seeking to shut down Line 5. “In a time of water shortages and changing climate in this century, it doesn’t make sense to even contemplate constructing Canadian oil pipelines in a tunnel under the world’s largest supply of fresh surface water.”
Spending up to a decade building a tunnel also would do nothing to address the immediate threat posed by the decaying, 65-year-old Line 5 oil pipelines in the open waters of the Mackinac Straits. Enbridge’s oil pipelines in the Straits are bent, cracked, gouged and dented by an anchor, scraped bare of their protective coating in places, and encrusted with corrosion-causing invasive mussels. Line 5 has exceeded its life expectancy and is more than two decades older than Enbridge’s pipeline that ruptured and dumped a million gallons of heavy tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River watershed in 2010.
A Line 5 oil spill in the Mackinac Straits could deliver a blow of more than $6 billion to Michigan’s economy from damage to natural resources, tourism, coastal property values, commercial fishing, and municipal water systems, according to a recent study by a Michigan State University economist commissioned by FLOW.
“The only way to prevent an environmental and economic catastrophe from a Great Lakes oil spill is to shut down Line 5 now,” said FLOW Senior Advisor Dave Dempsey. “Gov. Snyder and Attorney General Schuette have a legal duty to place protection of the public’s waters above the private pursuit of profit.”
Gov. Snyder so far has ignored the overwhelming call from citizens, businesses, and communities to shut down Line 5 and pursue alternatives such as sending the oil through other existing pipelines with excess capacity owned by Enbridge and its competitors. A recent poll showed that most Michigan voters wanted Line 5 shut down. Options for supplying propane to the Upper Peninsula also should be studied and implemented, including use of truck, rail, or a small, new pipeline.
Instead, Gov. Snyder’s tunnel vision bypasses his own Pipeline Safety Advisory Board, favors a Canadian company that has repeatedly misrepresented the safety and integrity of the pipeline, and raises legal, environmental, and other issues that he thus far has failed to address as his tenure as governor nears an end. Key concerns about tunneling or trenching oil pipelines beneath the Mackinac Straits include:
A Canadian tunnel under the Mackinac Straits is not permissible under Michigan’s Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act (GLSLA), common law public trust doctrine, and would violate the 1836 Treaty with Michigan Tribes protecting the Straits fishing grounds. These protections are meant to safeguard the Great Lakes. State officials must enforce them, and Enbridge can’t ignore them. One such protection requires Enbridge to prove that there are no other alternatives to Line 5 or the Straits, when in fact other alternatives exist.
Building a tunnel under the Mackinac Straits ignores the risk Line 5 poses to the other 245 water crossings,including ones that are direct tributaries of Lakes Michigan, Superior, and Huron. A tunnel in the Straits would do nothing to protect those Michigan and Great Lakes waterways from a Line 5 spill. The only effective way to eliminate an oil spill threat to the rest of our Great Lakes is to actually stop oil flowing through the Straits.
Climate change demands immediate, coordinated state, regional, and national energy policies that promote the expansion of renewable energies. By locking in continued investment in fossil fuel infrastructure like Line 5, the Governor would unilaterally undermine the economic benefit to Michiganders of the job-producing clean energy revolution spreading across North America.
A tunnel option would effectively give Enbridge the green light to expand its North American tar sands operations here in the heart of the Great Lakes. How? Even though Line 5 currently does not transport heavy tar sands under the State of Michigan’s 2015 ban, Enbridge could seek a court order to lift this ban and transport tar sands in Line 5.
Talk of building a tunnel is a distraction from the immediate and ongoing threat of a catastrophic multibillion-dollar oil spill. Aside from monumental legal and engineering challenges, building a tunnel demands years of construction and disruption to the region’s economy from tourism to fishing, according to the state’s alternatives report on Line 5.
A tunnel is no gift to Michiganders. We know that all pipelines – even in tunnels – have an inherent risk of spills in their operations. In fact, since 1968, Line 5 has leaked at least 29 times on land, spilling over 1.1 million gallons of oil into Michigan’s pristine lands and waters. The risk of having a spill cannot be completely engineered away because of the ever-present potential for human error contributing to, or causing, a spill event. Moreover, a Line 5 oil tunnel that also carries natural gas liquids—which Enbridge advocates—creates a new hazard for the Great Lakes—extremely flammable materials that under some conditions in a confined space such as a tunnel can be explosive.
Oil pipelines do not belong in our Great Lakes given the magnitude of harm and unacceptable risk they pose to our public waters, our economy, and our way of life. Half of all Michiganders, from Mackinac Island to the Motor City, rely on the Great Lakes for drinking water, as do more than 48 million Americans and Canadians in total.Let’s do the smart thing, work together to find reliable long-term energy solutions for Michigan, and shut down Line 5 before it’s too late.
FLOW’s organizing principle is the public trust doctrine. What sounds like an exotic concept is quite simple. This centuries-old principle of common law holds that there are some resources, like water and submerged lands, that by their nature cannot be privately owned. Rather, this commons – including the Great Lakes — belongs to the public. And governments, like the State of Michigan, have a responsibility to protect public uses of these resources. We explicitly address public trust concerns on what we’re calling Public Trust Tuesday.
The public trust doctrine is at the heart of FLOW’s efforts to shut down the antiquated Line 5 oil and gas pipelines that span the lakebed at the Straits of Mackinac. Enbridge, the pipeline owner and operator, has access to the lakebed only because the State of Michigan provided an easement to the company’s predecessor in 1953, subject to the requirements of the public trust doctrine.
Under the terms of that easement, the State, acting as a trustee of the public interest in the Great Lakes, cannot allow impairment of public uses of the affected Great Lakes waters and submerged land. Further, the State authorized the easement subject to Enbridge exercising “the due care of a reasonably prudent person for the safety and welfare of all persons and of all public and private property.” Multiple disclosures by Enbridge of shoddy stewardship of Line 5 have demonstrated the lack of due care.
Last week, FLOW submitted to the State six pages of comments and additional exhibits making the case that Enbridge’s patchwork approach to maintaining Line 5 has fallen well short of that standard. Further, FLOW argued that the major changes in structural support for the pipeline contemplated by Enbridge constitute a new project for the purposes of review by the state. This requires the State to insist that Enbridge demonstrate the absence of feasible and prudent alternatives to the proposed pipeline support changes – including alternate routes for the transport of oil and gas.
FLOW concluded, “the burden rests with Enbridge – not the State of Michigan or its citizens – to establish that there are no unacceptable risks or likely effects to waters, fishing, navigation, commerce, and public and private uses, and that no feasible and prudent alternatives to Line 5 based on existing or feasible capacity of overall pipeline system in the Great Lakes; the required scope of this showing of no alternatives includes determination of whether existing or improved pipeline infrastructure within the Enbridge system into and out of Michigan are a feasible and prudent alternative.”
As a native Michigander and optimist, I’ve always welcomed the first day of winter as a harbinger of longer, hopefully sunnier days just over the horizon. But I was recently reminded by a friend that, of course, the winter solstice that occurred Thursday at 11:28 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, actually marks the shortest day and longest night in the Northern Hemisphere.
So depending on the tilt of your perspective, the solstice is cause for deepening dread, a condition aptly summed up as “SAD,” or relative hope: There’s scientific evidence to suggest that without the tilt of the earth’s axis, we might not be here at all.
As we at FLOW take stock of our shared efforts in 2017 to prioritize and protect the Great Lakes and look ahead to challenges and opportunities to come in the new year, consider this dichotomy related to the battle to shut down the decaying Line 5 oil pipelines in the Mackinac Straits that suggest from my viewpoint that Great Lakes protectors are growing stronger and there indeed are brighter days ahead.
First the Dark: In October, Enbridge admitted misleading both Michigan and federal officials on the condition of its Line 5 oil pipelines for over three years, concealing the existence of at least 48 bare metal spots and/or coating gaps near anchor locations in the straits.
Then in late November, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder bypassed his own advisory board and announced his sweetheart, backroom deal with Enbridge to tilt the search for alternatives to a looming Great Lakes oil spill disaster toward a tunnel under the Mackinac Straits. Gov. Snyder, however, inadvertently lit a spark under those who recognize that the drinking water supply for half of all Michiganders is no place for oil pipelines.
Then the Firelight: FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood correctly called it a “reward for failure” for bumbling Enbridge. The governor’s spurned advisory board found its voice in early December and passed resolutions, in part, calling for an amendment to the deal to require the temporary shutdown of Line 5 until there has been the full inspection of and repair of the coating breaches and urging the state to conduct a much more robust assessment of alternatives to Line 5.
Apparently preferring a rubber-stamp board, Gov. Snyder was quick to dismiss his advisors, saying, “I’m not sure I view that as a regular meeting in terms of that resolution.” But the public was buoyed by the board’s backbone, with hundreds of outraged residents turning out and piping up in public meetings in Taylor, St. Ignace, and Traverse City to object to the governor’s deal and support a shutdown.
More Illumination in 2018: Stay tuned in early 2018 when the campaign will release its detailed plan to decommission Line 5 while ensuring propane still flows to the Upper Peninsula and Michigan’s other energy needs are met. FLOW’s technical advisors have done some of that decommissioning groundwork, as summarized in fact sheets here and here.
Shining Brighter Together: For FLOW, the broader context is that the Great Lakes belong to all of us, so all of us who love and benefit from these magnificent waters must share in the vital task of helping protect them.
That’s why we work so hard to educate the public and ensure these freshwater inland seas remain and become even more drinkable, fishable, and swimmable for generations to come. Together we must understand the risks facing our Great Lakes and very way of life so that we can pursue real solutions rooted in the public trust. And one very real solution is for the state of Michigan to shut down Line 5.
TRAVERSE CITY, MI – FLOW issued the following statement today regarding the announcement of an agreement between the state of Michigan and Enbridge Energy concerning the company’s Line 5 oil pipelines in the open waters of the Mackinac Straits, where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron meet:
“It is imprudent and arbitrary for the Governor to unilaterally sign a deal with Enbridge before the legal processes and evidence, including the opinion of experts on all sides, have been thoroughly reviewed and completed. Governor Snyder appears to have ignored and violated his own executive order, law, rules and once more ignored his public trust duties toward the Great Lakes, water, public health and safety, and the protection of citizens.”
“While the Governor’s agreement with Enbridge imposes some important interim safety measures, these measures should be steps toward the final shutdown – not replacement – of the pipelines.”
“It makes no sense to trust Enbridge to abide by a new agreement when it has been flagrantly violating its existing commitments and attempting to conceal those violations.”
“This is the same company that brought Michigan the worst inland oil spill in U.S. history and that misled both state and federal authorities for three years about its pipeline anchors causing bare metal spots on 48 locations along Line 5 in the Straits.”
“The Governor cannot preordain the tunnel option without Enbridge submitting an application under state law — the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act — and demonstrating that there is no feasible and prudent alternative to continuing to use the Great Lakes as a high-risk shortcut for transporting oil from one part of Canada to another.”
“The presumed tunnel option bypasses and prematurely dictates the future of Line 5 and sidelines the three-year process that the Governor set into motion with the creation of the Michigan Petroleum Pipeline Task Force and the Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board under his executive order.”
“The final alternatives analysis just came out on November 20 and the public comment period ends on December 22. This agreement completely eviscerates any meaningful opportunity for the public to weigh in on alternatives. Moreover, the public and the Governor’s office still do not have a comprehensive study analyzing the risk of Line 5 and its alternatives.”
“The Governor’s preemptive move today continues to violate treaty-reserved rights that predate Michigan’s statehood. The five federally recognized tribes whose fishing rights are located in the Straits of Mackinac were never consulted in 1953, and again were not consulted as part of this 2017 agreement between Enbridge and the State of Michigan. Sixty percent of the tribal commercial whitefish harvest comes from the spawning grounds in the Straits of Mackinac.”
FLOW (For Love of Water) is a Great Lakes water law and policy center and a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Traverse City, Michigan. Our mission is to protect the common waters of the Great Lakes Basin through public trust solutions.
When the police pulls a resident over for going 100 mph in a 55-mph zone, they don't cluck their tongues -- they click their ticket books.
But when Michigan’s state government catches Enbridge Energy putting the Great Lakes at risk by failing again to disclose dangerous conditions on its Line 5 oil pipelines in the Mackinac Straits, the response is paralysis. The state has again caught Enbridge ignoring its legal obligation to be a proper steward of the submerged land that the state allows the company to occupy with its pipeline.
But all we're hearing out of Lansing, and particularly Attorney General Bill Schuette is an expression of disappointment.
The difference between strict enforcement of laws against individuals and giving an oil transport giant chance after chance to meet its fundamental responsibility not to harm public waters is as stark as the difference between a single speeding motorist and a catastrophic oil spill fouling the drinking water source for millions.
The accumulation of studies, evidence of pipeline delamination and bends in June, and now exposed metal with likely corrosion, signals a dangerously flawed and ultimately incurable pair of sunken pipelines.
It’s time for our state government to stop treating the 1963 Constitution, statutes, and common law that protect our lakes as nice but meaningless environmental policy statements and start treating them as the duty the people through the Constitution and our courts have mandated. More than ever, it’s time to shut down Line 5.
FLOW's senior advisor, Dave Dempsey, has 35 years experience in environmental policy. He served as environmental advisor to former Michigan Governor James Blanchard and as policy advisor on the staff of the International Joint Commission. He has also provided policy support to the Michigan Environmental Council and Clean Water Action. He has authored several books on the Great Lakes and water protection.
Ecological disasters do not wait for political elections.
And Line 5 at the Straits of Mackinac seems oblivious to the campaign calendar.
To date, the Band-Aid fix-it approach for line 5 has only resulted in Band-Aid size – oh, I mean dinnerplate size -- bare metal spots on the pipeline itself.
The law is clear. Public trust waters are the paramount interest and must be the priority of state protection and action.
Enbridge's ongoing violations on Line 5 are blindingly obvious. And they have continued to mount over the last three years while the state has delayed a safe solution through endless study. A quick sampling of violations includes: lack of adequate anchor supports, loss of protective coating, bent pipeline, bare metal, lack of a credible emergency oil spill response plan, deficient liability insurance, and so on.
Time and time again, Enbridge has asked the public and the state to trust them. And we have only later found out that Enbridge has misled the citizens of Michigan and the state government about the true condition of their aging 64-year-old dual pipelines.
Enbridge has an outstanding permit request to install 22 additional anchors. But the state is in no position to authorize these permits because the anchors themselves have caused the bare metal exposure on the pipeline.
Now the state has decided to engage university experts to spend months finishing a risk study put on hold last summer due to contractor conflicts of interest. A risk study only further delays meaningful state action on Line 5 to avoid a pipeline oil spill. We already know that the risk of any oil spill in the heart of the Great Lakes is unacceptable. Thus, we are merely asking ourselves: How fast will the Titanic sink? 1 hour or 3 hours.
Any credible risk study will simply conjure a more realistic disaster scenario than Enbridge would like us to imagine. It appears that the state is committed to completing the risk study; however, it should at the very least recommend that the state temporarily shut down the flow of oil while the risk study marches on.
No one today would ever authorize oil pipelines to pump 23,000,000 gallons of oil daily in the open waters of the Great Lakes. While consultants completes a risk analysis, the state at a bare minimum should temporarily shut down the flow of oil.
So let's be clear ourselves. Line 5 must be decommissioned and we, the citizens of Michigan, demand that this process starts immediately.
The time to act is now.
Liz Kirkwood is FLOW's Executive Director, an environmental lawyer with seventeen years of experience working on water, sanitation, energy, and environmental governance issues both nationally and internationally. She oversees the direction of the organization, prioritizing policy research and corresponding educational initiatives to ensure their consistency and high quality.
The state pipeline safety advisory board met Monday to discuss next steps on Line 5 at the Straits of Mackinac, in the wake of new revelations about shoddy Line 5 maintenance by Enbridge. FLOW's statement at the meeting said enough is known about the pipeline's condition and poor maintenance for the state to immediately revoke the pipeline's easement to traverse the Straits.