Photo (from left): Winona LaDuke, Holly Bird, and FLOW’s Liz Kirkwood on May 13 at the Straits of Mackinac. Photo by Beth Price.
By Liz Kirkwood, FLOW Executive Director
May 13 marked an inflection point in FLOW’s water and climate work to shut down Line 5. It was a day of action and a show of force to evict Enbridge as an occupier—a rogue Canadian pipeline company pumping oil through our public waters and lands of the Great Lakes. It was a day highlighting the power of community and solidarity, and the power of indigenous leadership in protecting the source of all life: water.
Just the day before, Enbridge blatantly defied and violated Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s deadline ordering the shutdown of the Line 5 pipelines. Defending our waters in her usual bold style, Governor Whitmer warned that Enbridge’s failure to obey would result in intentional trespass and disgorgement of 100 percent of Enbridge’s oil profits gained every day from illegally operating Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac. (Read Gov. Whitmer’s reasons for shutting down Line 5 in her own words).
Organized by the first peoples of North America and the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign, this day-long event drew over 400 allies to deliver an eviction notice to Enbridge, to participate in a water walk and ceremony, and to hear from leaders about the urgent need to tackle climate change and shift to a clean energy economy. As water protectors, women tribal members led the group in traditional water ceremonies and told stories of our relationship to water. Tribal President Whitney Gravelle from the Bay Mills Indian Community conveyed that her tribe had voted to formally banished Enbridge and its pipeline from their legally recognized treaty waters. (Read coverage here of tribal protests that began the day prior at the Straits and continued into May 13).
Nationally recognized indigenous voice, author, and anti-pipeline organizer Winona LaDuke, who directs Honor the Earth in Minnesota, spoke passionately about the danger posed by Line 5 to the Straits, which have played a key role in both tribal and non-tribal heritage and culture for centuries.
“This rogue Canadian corporation is basically holding the Great Lakes hostage,” LaDuke told FLOW in an interview after her speech. “In state after state, they are scaring officials. But here in Michigan, your governor, your attorney general have stood up for the people and for the water. We don’t need a Canadian multinational holding us all hostage. And that’s right now what they’re doing.”
“The question I would ask is, ‘Who gets the honor of being the last Tar Sands pipeline? Who gets that honor?’ It’s kind of like being the last guy to die in Vietnam, isn’t it? Who wants to tell that soldier he’s the last man to die for an unjust war? Who wants to tell some Ojibwe that they’re the last people to have their water contaminated so that Enbridge can make a buck?”
Demonstrating the deep commitment and solidarity among indigenous nations, tribal members from Minnesota, where they are fighting another Enbridge pipeline—Line 3, actively participated in the May 13 event.
I joined the event on behalf of FLOW, representing our eight years of effort making the case that public trust principles and law give the State of Michigan the authority—and the duty—to expel Line 5 from the Straits in order to protect the world’s greatest freshwater system. Enbridge’s track record of pipeline mismanagement and deception—leading to the largest and most devastating oil spill in Michigan’s history in the Kalamazoo River watershed in 2010—bodes ill for the Straits, their ecology and the jobs that depend on them.
I am proud that it was FLOW that first identified the public trust doctrine as the basis for protecting these waters from the pipeline. Now Governor Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel have explicitly invoked that doctrine in seeking to shut down the pipeline.
This morning along East Grand Traverse Bay, the drinking water source for Traverse City, Liz Kirkwood explains why Enbridge’s decision to ignore the law amounts to privatizing the Great Lakes and the Public Trust.
Sixty-eight years ago, Enbridge’s predecessor, Lakehead Pipeline Company, chose this vulnerable location as the shortest distance to transport Canadian oil back to Canada. In 1953, the public, political leaders, and pipeline operators had not yet experienced catastrophic oil spills like the Exxon Valdez in Alaska, BP Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico, or Enbridge’s own Line 6B Kalamazoo River disaster in southern Michigan.
Now, despite the well-documented and lasting economic and ecological harm of oil pipeline disasters across the globe, we are witnessing intense, orchestrated opposition from Canada’s Enbridge and its allies to shutting down a clear-and-present danger to Michigan’s waters and way of life. A Line 5 oil spill would be an unprecedented ecological and economic disaster in the Great Lakes, threatening 84% of North America’s surface fresh water and some 20 percent of the planet’s fresh surface water, devastating coastal communities, and causing billions of dollars of damages to the environment and local and regional economy.
Line 5’s original design intended the dual pipelines to lie upon the lakebed and was subject to a detailed and comprehensive engineering evaluation of 20 specific areas, including written determinations of fitness that were certified by consulting engineers. Now, after decades of patchwork repairs to shore up the decaying infrastructure, as much as 3 miles of pipelines are elevated above the lakebed floor and prone to physical hazards such as anchor strikes in the busy shipping channel of the Straits of Mackinac.
After extensive legal review of Enbridge’s incurable violations in public trust waters, the governor and the Department of Natural Resources took decisive legal action to defend the Great Lakes from a catastrophic oil spill under the state’s sovereign public trust law. Leaders in 16 states and the District of Columbia and four tribes have taken Michigan’s side in its fight to have a state court, not a federal judge, decide whether the state has the authority to shutter Enbridge’s Line 5 oil pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac.
In refusing to shut down Line 5 per the Governor’s order, Enbridge’s flagrant disregard for the law exposes a deep-rooted and reckless corporate culture of exceptionalism that includes the following:
Engaging in a targeted, sophisticated misinformation media strategy through Enbridge’s front group affiliate Consumer Energy Alliance.
Gov. Whitmer on Tuesday pledged in a letter to seize any profits that Enbridge makes from operating Line 5 after today’s midnight shutdown deadline, alleging it would constitute trespass and unjust enrichment. Also on Tuesday, several federally recognized tribes in Michigan took legal steps under tribal law to limit Enbridge and the threat from Line 5. Bay Mills Indian Community in the Upper Peninsula, as well as a five-tribe organization including Bay Mills that manages the fishery in the Straits of Mackinac, voted to banish Enbridge’s Line 5 from its territory. Banishment is a legal action that is considered a punishment of last resort in tribal law.
“This was the first, necessary step in banishing Enbridge from these waters,” said Bay Mills chairperson Whitney Gravelle, who said the move applies to the reservation and treaty-ceded waters. “We’re calling on the state and the United States to enforce this banishment.”
Michiganders have not forgotten Enbridge’s epic failure and legacy of the million-gallon, Line 6B oil spill disaster into the Kalamazoo River in 2010 that drove dozens of families permanently from their homes and cost an estimated $1.2 billion in cleanup costs, damages, and restoration.
“The Enbridge Kalamazoo River spill of 2010 was a real thing — people remember it,” said David Holtz, spokesman for the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign. “They understand that oil still lies at the bottom of that river, and that a million gallons were spilled. They understand that could happen again times 10 in the Straits of Mackinac — no matter what Enbridge says in its million-dollar ad buys.”
As part of “a sophisticated public affairs strategy,” Enbridge and its ally Consumer Energy Alliance—a national oil industry front group—continue to claim that shutting down Line 5 could lead to propane and oil shortages and increased prices harming Michigan consumers. However, the vast majority of the liquids shipped via Line 5 do not supply Michigan, and an independent analysis found that shutting down Line 5 was unlikely to significantly impact consumer prices at the pump (less than one cent per gallon) and that Michigan’s energy needs could be met without Line 5. Research conducted by former Dow Chemical engineer Gary Street found that in August 2020, after more than 50 days with at least one leg of Line 5 closed due to damage from an cable strike, gasoline prices and supply were unaffected in Michigan and Canada.
But not everyone is waiting around. In fact,several oil companies seeking alternatives to Line 5 have contingency plans put in place. Suncor Energy purchased a stake in the Portland-Montreal pipeline to import oil from Maine to Montreal if Line 5 is shut down. Toronto’s Pearson Airport has stated that its fuel sources are “diversified and consequently not at risk.”
Line 5 also threatens our climate and water security in an increasingly hot and thirsty world. Each year, Line 5 pumps out more than 57 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, which is equivalent to the combined operation of the nation’s three largest coal plants. Dismissing the climate emergency, Enbridge and its political allies in the U.S. and Canada promote energy security alone and insist that “the operation of Line 5 is non-negotiable.”
This strident reaction from Canadian politicians stems in part from the fact that Canadians have rejected building any new pipelines in the last decade in their own country going east or west to the coasts for export. In this pipeline battle, the Anishinabek Nation says the Canadian government isputting the oil and gas industry ahead of the Great Lakeswith its support for the Line 5 pipeline. The Great Lakes are international water bodies, and Canadians should be just as concerned for their protection as the United States.
The Great Lakes support over 1.3 million jobs that generate $82 billion in U.S. wages annually, with 350,000 of those jobs in Michigan alone. More than 48 million Americans and Canadians draw their drinking water from the Great Lakes. Line 5 represents an unacceptable risk to the jobs and economy of the Great Lakes region, drinking water, and tribal treaty and fishing rights. While Enbridge might refuse for now to stop Line 5’s oil flow or collaborate in the global energy transition, for the future prosperity of Michigan, the Great Lakes, and the planet, we all must transition away from Enbridge.
About the authors:
Liz Kirkwood is FLOW’s executive director. Nora Baty is a third-year law student at the University of Michigan Law School and currently serving as FLOW’s Milliken Law and Policy Intern.
The Line 5 pipelines at the Straits of Mackinac—which Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has called on Enbridge to shut down by May 12—pose a multigenerational threat to citizens of the Great Lakes.
Take it from Sage, an 11-year-old from Oxford, Michigan, who chose to do her 5th grade final project on Line 5.
“My love for the Great Lakes,” Sage opens her essay.
“I was swimming in the crystal clear blue waters of the Great Lakes. Splashing in the refreshing water in my swimsuit and new goggles. It was a sunny day and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The golden sand on the beach shimmered when the sunlight hit it. I could see tiny little fish swimming around me. It felt like I was in a tropical paradise. I plunged into the water feeling refreshed and relaxed. As the big waves came towards my sister and I. We jumped into them feeling the coolness of the water. We swam out towards the big rock. When we got there, we saw Mom, Dad, Nana and Papa waving to us. We waved back as we stood on top of the rock. We cannonballed into the water, plunging in like someone putting ice cubes into a drink. Now imagine dark oily, dirty water with dead fish floating at the top. This could happen if Line 5 is not shut down. Enbridge Line 5 needs to be shut down.”
Read the rest of Sage’s project below:
What Is Enbridge Line 5?
Enbridge Line 5 is an oil pipeline owned by the Canadian company Enbridge Energy Inc. The Line 5 runs underneath the Straits of Mackinac. It was built in 1953 and was only meant to last 50 years. Even though the pipeline is 68 years old today, and not in good condition, it still exists. Every day, Line 5 transports 22.68 million gallons of oil. The pipeline is 645 miles long. It transports oil to Sarina, Canada. So that means that the oil pipeline is not even benefiting Michigan, in any way shape or form. Line 5 should be shut down because according to Oil And Water Don’t Mix: Every day, nearly 23 million gallons of oil flow through two aging pipelines in the heart of the Great Lakes, just west of the Mackinac Bridge. Constructed during the Eisenhower administration in 1953, the two 20-inch-in-diameter Line 5 pipelines owned by Canadian company Enbridge, Inc., lie exposed in the water at the bottom when they cross the Straits of Mackinac” (Oil And Water Don’t Mix) This is just unsafe. This is a recipe for a disaster.
Six decades of metal being underwater has to cause some damage. It is covered in algae and other sea life. It is rusty. Since Enbridge Line 5 is so old it has had to have many repairs. Just like an old person, things age and require more maintenance. As people get older, they need more procedures, surgeries, and medicine. Enbridge line 5 is the end of its life. For example, in the article, (Oil And Water Don’t Mix) Enbridge installed several support structures under the pipelines in 2006 and again in 2010 and 2018, following the company’s oil spill into the Kalamazoo River.
Now, hundreds of supports elevate 3-miles of the pipeline off the lakebed into the turbulent current. This design was never approved and makes the pipeline unsafe. In other words the pipeline is very old and could rupture at any moment. Even though Enbridge has added updates to Line 5, the pipeline is still unsafe. What are they going to do with Line 5? Because of Enbridge’s past, there is a lack of trust in them. On July 26, 2010 there was a giant oil spill operated by Enbridge.
According to Wikipedia: “The Kalamazoo River oil spill occurred in July 2010 when a pipeline operated by Enbridge burst and flowed into Talmadge Creek, a tributary of the Kalamazoo River. A 6-foot break in the pipeline resulted in one of the largest inland oil spills in U.S. history”. When the Kalamazoo oil spill occurred almost 1,000,000 gallons of light crude oil was spilled. Because of that, the future of The Great Lakes right now should not be in the hands of Enbridge. As the Line 5 Pipeline ages, it increases the risk of an oil spill in The Great Lakes. If the Pipeline were to rupture in The Great Lakes, then it would cost more than $1.9 BILLION DOLLARS AT LEAST to clean it up! That is a lot of money.
Here is something to help you imagine $1.9 billion dollars better. According to: Research Maniacs“If you had $1.9 billion, you could buy 63,333 cars at $30,000/each or 9,500 houses at $200,000/each. If you were to travel 1.9 billion miles, you could fly around the world 76,302 times, or take a round trip to the moon 3,977 times.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan [has given] Enbridge 180 days to shut-down the Line 5 Pipeline PERMANENTLY. But Enbridge will not shut-down the Line 5 Pipeline without a fight. So until then, The Great Lakes will be at stake.
What Can Go Wrong With Line 5? And What Would Happen To The Surrounding Areas?
Not only is Enbridge Line 5 unsafe, but it also threatens many ecosystems and the Great State of Michigan. According to the Sierra Club: “The Enbridge company is playing with fire.” and I agree. The longer the pipeline stays, the longer we risk damaging The Great Lakes and other ecosystems. The Great Lakes ecosystems include a large variety of habitats and more than 3,500 different species of animals and plants. If the Line 5 pipeline were to rupture then, it would negatively impact people, the environment and animals. Here is an example: All living things need water to survive. So if oil were to spill in the water we drink we would die. Not just people would die, but animals would die too.
Here is another example: Let’s say that we had another source of water. We would be fine for now, but all of the fish and animals would die. So then we would run out of food. If we dont start taking action, then the examples that I talked about could become the reality. The Enbridge Line 5 Pipeline is unnatural and unsafe.If Line 5 where to rupture then we would be DOOMED. First things first, we would lose 20% of the world’s fresh surface water. Second of all, everything in The Great Lakes would be dead! The fish, the and all of the ecosystems. A lot of bears and deer and a bunch of other animals would die too. That would happen because if they were to drink water from The Great Lakes after an oil spill. Then they would die because the water would be toxic. If Line 5 were to rupture, then the oil would spread through the whole Great Lakes. That would happen because all of The Great Lakes are connected and have strong currents. Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario would all be flooded in oil if Line 5 were to rupture. Michigan would lose all tourism as no one would go to Mackinac Island, Traverse City (The Cherry Capital Of The World), and other popular lakefront destinations. The economic impact would be felt for decades and recovering the state would cost billions of dollars. Michigan’s slogan “Pure Michigan”, would turn into “Crude Michigan”. That slogan does not have as good a ring as “Pure Michigan”. All outdoor activities such as fishing, camping, hunting and lots of others would disappear forever. Imagine oily, dirty water. With dead fish floating at the top and black greasy beaches with brown foam floating at the top of the water. Birds that are covered in oil drying skin and feathers being polluted.
This could become Michigan’s reality if we don’t take action and shut-down Line 5 today.
The following statement can be attributed to Liz Kirkwood, environmental attorney and executive director of FLOW (For Love of Water), the Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City, in reaction to the Whitmer administration’s release today of a five-point propane security plan to aid Michigan residents after the dangerous Enbridge Line 5 pipeline is shut down.
Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director
“The MI Propane Security Plan is the right plan at the right time for Michigan’s energy independence and future prosperity. With state leadership, the propane supply and distribution system can continue to adjust to meet demand, particularly in the Upper Peninsula where about 18 percent of households heat with propane.
“It’s far too risky for residents and the State of Michigan to continue to rely on the dangerous and outdated Line 5 pipelines that cross the open waters of the Straits of Mackinac for their propane supply. Line 5 has failed at least 33 times since 1968, spilling more than 1.1 million gallons of oil in Michigan and Wisconsin. Line 5 is owned and operated by Enbridge, which caused the Kalamazoo River oil spill disaster in 2010—after providing reassurances to Congress just 10 days earlier of ‘almost instantaneous’ response to leaks in the Canadian company’s sprawling North American pipeline system.
“We cannot trust Enbridge to keep running Line 5 through the Great Lakes, 20% of the world’s supply of fresh surface water and the drinking water source relied on by 48 million Americans and Canadians, including about half of all Michigan residents.
“According to the State of Michigan, the MI Propane Security Plan addresses potential price gouging, invests in renewable energy, energy efficiency and electrification, encourages investments in alternatives to Line 5, ramps up propane storage infrastructure, and calls for more actions to avert any disruption of energy supply.”
Shutting down Line 5 would add just 5 cents to the cost of a gallon of propane, which has hovered around $2 for the past year, according to a 2018 study by London Economics International LLC, a Boston-based consultancy, and commissioned by the National Wildlife Federation.
For more information, see FLOW’s Line 5 fact sheets and blogs:
Look at the slippery manipulation of rules by the same corporation that caused the Line 6b disaster along the Kalamazoo River in 2010. Look at Enbridge’s repeated resistance to turning over information to the Attorney General of Michigan from 2014 until today. The corporation sat on information it had about the strong currents scouring under the existing dual pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac and the addition of band-aid support structures over the past 15 years. The corporation dragged its feet on reporting the first anchor strike in 2018, and claimed it would never happen — and then it became public knowledge that it happened again when early last summer Ingham County Circuit Court Judge James Jamo ordered Enbridge to turn over information and reports that confirmed that fact that two more dangerous anchor strikes and a cable dragged along the Line 5 pipelines.
No responsible official would wait for the next strike or next band-aid to prop up a sagging pipeline. Under the state’s solemn duty to protect the Great Lakes and its citizens before serious harm occurs, Governor Whitmer and DNR Director Dan Eichinger, after a thorough 15-month review of information—including strong currents, failing pipelines from scouring and support structures that suspend the pipeline four feet into the water column, sitting in wait —had no choice but to issue the Notice of Revocation and Termination of the 1953 Easement for the existing pipelines.
Similarly, Attorney General Nessel had no choice but to file a lawsuit in Ingham County Circuit Court to enforce the revocation and terminate Enbridge’s gamble that it can extract over $1 million a day at the risk of a major rupture or leak that according to experts would cause over $6 billion in damages and devastate the State’s economy for many years. Our southern Gulf states still have not recovered from the 2010 Deep Water Horizon blowout.
Under the U.S. Constitution and law of the U.S. Supreme Court and our own Supreme Court, Michigan took absolute title and sovereign control of the waters and bottomlands of the Great Lakes into a legally enforceable public trust on admission to statehood in 1837. Under public trust law, the state and its officials are trustees, just like trustees at a bank, and are charged with a solemn duty to prevent impairment, alienation, and subordination of this public trust, including attempts by private corporations to control it. This public trust protects the rights of citizens, communities, and property owners along the Great Lakes and our inland waters for fishing, boating, navigation, drinking water, sustenance, health, swimming, and other recreation. These rights and these public trust lands and waters are paramount to any private rights.
When Michigan took title in trust, all the United States government reserved for the nation was a navigational servitude —meaning, it could pass laws allowing shipping and improve related dock and port infrastructure under its police power to protect navigation. But the United States and Congress did not reserve the power to pass laws that erase, interfere with, or subordinate the State’s public trust duties and the rights of citizens as legal beneficiaries. If the federal government can’t interfere with the State’s paramount public trust, certainly no foreign corporation can do so.
Yet, Enbridge sent a 7-page letter this week to Governor Whitmer and our state officials falsely stating that the State has no legal authority over the existing pipeline, and that the corporation and its officials refuse to comply with the Notice of Revocation and, presumably, any state court order that would enforce the revocation and shutdown this dangerous line. Enbridge also claimed that its lame-duck agreement with the Snyder Administration in late 2018 gives it the right to locate a tunnel and new tunnel pipeline under the Straits in these public trust bottomlands and waters and the right to continue the existing line until it gets its tunnel.
As it turns out, the easements and 99-year lease for the tunnel deal haven’t been authorized under public trust law either. When the 2018 tunnel deal is examined closely, it reveals that Enbridge thumbed its nose at the rule of law and never obtained approval for these conveyances and use agreements under the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act and the law that authorizes utility easements on public trust bottomlands.
When will Enbridge stop flaunting the law and stop trying to use its big buck advertising, political, and legal muscle? Since when did Enbridge become the trustee for Michigan’s Great Lakes? The public trust doctrine is perpetual, and when a use like the Enbridge 1953 dual lines in the Straits is no longer compatible with the protection of the public trust and rights of citizens, the state can revoke the use. Enbridge’s attempt to remove the State’s necessary and prudent actions to protect the public trust in the waters and bottomlands of the Great Lakes that it holds for citizens doesn’t float because it’s full of holes.
If the U.S. Congress can’t pass laws that take over or interfere with the absolute public trust rights and title of the Great Lakes in the States, surely a foreign corporation cannot expect to, no matter how much money and power it uses to back up such defiance. And those of us who live in the Great Lakes Basin—40 million of us—won’t let this defiance destroy the rule of law of our State. Thankfully, Governor Whitmer, Director Eichinger, and Attorney General Nessel know this, and rather than look the other way, have the courage to stop it under the rule of law.
FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood made the following statement during a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers public hearing on Monday, December 7, regarding the environmental impact of Enbridge’s proposed oil tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac.
The National Environmental Policy Act mandates Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) for all major projects that significantly affect the environment.
The proposed tunnel is, categorically, a major project and it will significantly affect and endanger the human environment. The scale, wetlands fill, landscape alternation, nearshore habitat, massive water withdrawal and chemical discharge of wastewater, and spoils represent both a major project and significant effects to the human environment. I want to enumerate eight reasons why a full EIS is required to evaluate this proposed project.
The location of the tunnel is in the heart of the largest and most valuable fresh surface water system in the world.
The proposed project meets all 10 of the “intensity” factors indicating “severity of impact” under 40 C.F.R. § 1508.27. Meeting just one of these intensity factors can necessitate an EIS.
The applicant indicates that the construction of the project will use 5 water treatment additives for slurry conditioning, including bentonite, soda ash, carbon dioxide, sulfuric acid, and a flocculant/coagulant for removing suspended solids. Enbridge notes that “additional polymer-based additives may be needed.” The Corps must determine the composition of these additives and the risk posed by the use of all of these chemicals
The proposed project will fill coastal wetlands – among the most biologically productive areas in the world – over 90 percent of the roughly 200 fish species that occur in the Great Lakes are dependent on coastal wetlands.
Independent experts who studied Enbridge’s proposed tunnel plan concluded that it “raises serious concerns regarding the feasibility, integrity, and planning for the construction of the tunnel.” More than 75 percent of the tunnel boring area is in “very poor” or “poor” quality rock conditions, the experts warned, also citing the potential for explosions because of the presence of methane gas.
The State Historic Preservation Office has given notice that the recently disclosed evidence of potential submerged prehistoric sites requires a full evaluation.
At this point in time, Enbridge has yet to issue a credible estimate of project cost. The original estimate of $500 million was for a tunnel with a 10 ft diameter. The proposed project would have an 18 – 21 ft diameter requiring the excavation and disposition of four times the material compared to the original proposal.
Enbridge is explicit in indicating that the proposed project would extend the life of Line 5 for 99 years. It will transport 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids daily, that when burned, will yield over 57 million metric tons of atmospheric carbon annually – more carbon than is emitted by the nation’s 3 largest coal plants combined. This long-term investment in fossil fuel infrastructure is directly at odds with the broad scientific consensus that immediate steps must be taken to decarbonize the economy to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change.
It is difficult to conceive of a project more worthy of a full environmental statement.
Editor’s note: This is an Oil & Water Don’t Mix (O&WDM) media release.
Twelve organizations and Michigan tribal representatives today (Dec. 7, 2020) called on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reject the Enbridge Line 5 Straits of Mackinac oil tunnel project. If not dismissed now, the Army Corps risks a repeat of a July court ruling that threw out a permit in another major federal pipeline case.
In their submission of comments, the groups told the Army Corps that the permit for the tunnel should not be approved without a full review that evaluates the consequences of an oil tunnel for the Great Lakes, coastal wetlands, historic archeological finds, and navigation within the Straits of Mackinac.
“Enbridge’s proposed tunnel is a major federal action demanding a full environmental impact statement under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA),” said Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director of FLOW (For Love of Water), a Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City. “A review of Enbridge’s incomplete application reveals a highly controversial project with extraordinary impacts to coastal wetlands, millions of gallons a day of surface wastewater discharges and water treatment additives, underwater archeological sites, incomplete geotechnical studies for tunnel construction, lack of a credible estimate of project cost, and unprecedented climate change impacts to extend the life of Line 5 for the next 99 years.”
Official comments from the organizations come as the Army Corps holds a single public hearing today on Enbridge’s proposal for a federal Clean Water Act permit to construct the oil tunnel. The Army Corps public comment period ends on Dec. 17. It comes as the Michigan Public Service Commission and the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy also evaluate permit applications from Enbridge and follows a decision by Gov. Whitmer to revoke Enbridge’s operating agreement for the existing Line 5, citing the company’s history of failures and ongoing, incurable violations of the agreement.
“Line 5 will transport 540,000 barrels of oil that when burned will emit over 57 million metric tons of atmospheric carbon annually – more carbon than is emitted by the nation’s three largest coal plants combined,” said Kirkwood. “Let’s not forget what’s at stake – a proposal to build a mega tunnel in the heart of the largest and most valuable fresh surface water system in the world. It’s difficult to conceive of a project more worthy of a full environmental impact statement under federal law.”
The groups and tribal representatives warn that approving Enbridge’s proposed application would violate the same federal law that prompted the U.S. District Court in July to block a final permit for the Dakota Access pipeline in the Dakotas. In the Dakota Access case, the court said the Army Corps must conduct a full review under the National Environmental Policy Act because it was a major federal project with widespread potential impacts, including threats to drinking water sources for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.
The Army Corps has yet to decide whether Enbridge’s permit application for the tunnel should be subjected to a full federal review that could include looking at other alternatives, including existing oil pipelines within Enbridge’s massive North America pipeline system.
Concerns with the tunnel proposal cited by the groups and shared with the Army Corps include:
Drinking water threat. Enbridge proposes withdrawing 4 million gallons a day of water and discharging 5 million gallons a day of water and slurry into the Straits of Mackinac. Nearby communities of Charlevoix, Mackinac Island, St. Ignace, Alpena, East Tawas, and Tawas City rely on Lake Michigan and Lake Huron for drinking water.
Geotechnical problems. Independent experts who studied Enbridge’s proposed tunnel plan concluded that it “raises serious concerns regarding the feasibility, integrity, and planning for the construction of the tunnel.” More than 75 percent of the tunnel boring area is in “very poor” or “poor” quality rock conditions, the experts warned, also citing the potential for explosions because of the presence of methane gas.
Sovereign tribal and fishing rights. The Straits of Mackinac are the spawning and fishing grounds for 60 percent of the commercial tribal whitefish catch, which could be negatively impacted by the tunnel project and continued operation of Line 5 in the Straits.
Northern Michigan economy. Emmet, Cheboygan, and Mackinac counties would be heavily impacted by the tunnel project, straining police, fire, health emergency services, and rental housing that would typically go to seasonal tourism workers who constitute an annual $153 million payroll. Dust, noise, and intense trucking and machinery activity will also stress local communities.
“Michigan deserves more than a rubber-stamp permit approval from the Army Corps,” said Sean McBrearty, Oil & Water Don’t Mix coordinator. “What we need is for the Army Corps to follow the law and prioritize protecting the Great Lakes, our drinking water, and our climate. A Canadian company’s oil profits shouldn’t be more important than Michigan’s future.”
Those submitting joint comments include For Love of Water (FLOW), League of Women Voters of Michigan, Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, Michigan Environmental Council, Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council, Straits of Mackinac Alliance, Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, TC350, the Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority (CORA), the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, and the Straits Area Concerned Citizens for Peace, Justice, and the Environment.
Oil & Water Don’t Mix is a citizens’ movement committed to protecting the Great Lakes and decommissioning Enbridge’s dangerous Line 5 oil pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac. More information: https://www.oilandwaterdontmix.org/about.
Jim Olson is FLOW’s Founder, President, and Legal Advisor
By Jim Olson
The federal lawsuit Enbridge filed Tuesday is an attack on the State of Michigan’s sovereign title and authority to protect the public trust in the Straits and Great Lakes from Line 5. The federal government can regulate safety, but it can never control the location and use of the State of Michigan’s own public trust waters and bottomlands of the Great Lakes, except as it relates to navigation.
Michigan has never surrendered and could never surrender its public trust authority and responsibility to protect the waters of the Great Lakes from the clear and present danger presented by Enbridge’s old and failing Line 5 oil pipeline system. The public rights in navigable waters, according to Michigan’s Supreme Court, “are protected by a high, solemn, and perpetual trust, which it is the duty of the state to forever maintain.”
State of Michigan Conducted an Exhaustive Review of Enbridge’s Line 5 Easement Violations
After a comprehensive, 15-month review of Line 5’s operations and potential for catastrophic harm from a rupture or leak in the heart of the Great Lakes, the State of Michigan determined on November 13 that Enbridge’s easement to use the bottomlands of Lake Michigan must be revoked and terminated because of “longstanding, persistent, and incurable violations of the Easement’s conditions and standard of due care.” The action represents a major milestone in Michigan’s environmental history.
The state’s title and public trust interest and duty in the Great Lakes have been established by the Michigan and United States Supreme Courts for more than 125 years. Every state received title to the lands and waters that were navigable at the time of statehood—for Michigan, 1837, including all of the Great Lakes and its inland lakes, rivers, and streams. The state’s public trust title in navigable waters and lands beneath them is a matter of federal constitutional principle. Once the state has title, it is absolute, cannot be alienated or transferred away, and the state as trustee determines the extent and nature of any activity or use of the public trust waters and lands of the Great Lakes.
The public rights under the Public Trust Doctrine are protected, according to the Michigan Supreme Court, by a “high, solemn and perpetual trust which it is the duty of the state to forever maintain.” The state’s interest and its public trust responsibilities are held forever. Thus, any authorization, like the Enbridge Line 5 easement granted by the Department of Conservation in 1953 remains subject to the state’s duty to protect the state’s title as well as Michigan citizens’ paramount rights that are protected by public trust law. The United States Supreme Court explicitly acknowledged a state’s paramount rights in the landmark case, Illinois Central Railroad Co v Illinois, finding that a grant of property rights in public trust resources “is necessarily revocable, and the exercise of the trust by which the property was held by the state can be resumed at any time.”
Catastrophe Does Not Have to Occur Before the State Acts to Protect the Public Trust
When Enbridge received its easement for its dual lines in 1953, it did so subject to the state’s authority and duty to protect its sovereign public trust title and rights of citizens in the waters and bottomlands of the Straits of Mackinac. No private interest can be granted permission to use these public trust waters and bottomlands for any private or public use without the express authorization by law, and only if the state finds at the time the public’s uses and the public trust will be improved or not impaired.
Enbridge’s easement is basically a license to use these public trust lands and waters subject to revocation if there are dangers that would violate the public trust. If later it is discovered that conditions exist that were not initially understood or new information comes to light indicating public trust resources are at risk or threaten the public’s rights in fishing, navigation, boating, and drinking water, or recreation, the state has the inherent right to revoke the use. No state nor its citizens has to wait until a catastrophe occurs before the state can revoke a use to protect this perpetual trust.
Only the State of Michigan, through its Governor and Department of Natural Resources Director and the Attorney General as trustees and “sworn guardians” of this public trust, has the authority over who, where, and when another person or corporation can use the Straits of Mackinac, such as Enbridge’s use for the dual lines in 1953 and in 2020. Because the circumstances, conditions, and events—anchor strikes, cable strikes, scoured spans under the pipes, and stronger currents—violate the terms of the 1953 easement and endanger the Straits and hundreds of miles of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, the state has every right to revoke the Enbridge easement. Enbridge’s use of Lake Michigan bottomlands has always been limited by the Public Trust Doctrine and the state’s perpetual authority to revoke the use when the public trust is endangered.
State of Michigan, not a Federal Agency, Controls the Public Trust Lands and Waters of the Great Lakes
Enbridge falsely claims that the safety code requirements under the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) supersede the state’s authority and public trust duty to protect the Great Lakes. The claim confuses the federal power to regulate a pipeline’s safety once it is built with the state’s sovereign authority to decide if a corporation or Enbridge can use the public trust lands and waters of the Great Lakes in the first place.
There is nothing in PHMSA regulations or any federal law that remotely attempts to assert control over the use of a state’s public trust lands and waters, nor could the federal government do so. The authority for use of these public trust lands and waters falls entirely within the authority and duties of the State of Michigan, and there is nothing the federal government, Canadian government, or Enbridge can do to impinge on this paramount public trust title and the rights of the citizens of Michigan in the Great Lakes.
The bottom line is that the Great Lakes belong to all of us, and the State of Michigan is doing its duty as trustee to protect our public trust resources so that, now and in the future, we are assured the right to drink from, bathe, fish, and swim in, and boat upon oil-free waters. Alternatives exist for supplying oil and propane without spikes in fuel prices, but our magnificent fresh waters are irreplaceable. Please join FLOW in thanking Gov. Whitmer for standing up to Enbridge and standing up for our Great Lakes.
The State of Michigan’s decision last Friday to revoke and terminate the 67-year-old easement across the Straits of Mackinac granted to Enbridge for the Line 5 petroleum product pipelines was more than that day’s news—it was an event that will be remembered in the state’s environmental history.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Director Dan Eichinger, and Attorney General Dana Nessel announced the decision based on Enbridge’s consistent track record of deception, subterfuge, and poor stewardship, which put at risk a large area of the Great Lakes and the people, industries, aesthetics, and public uses dependent on them. Legally, it was a sound decision under the Public Trust Doctrine, but politically it was difficult. The same is true of most of the milestones in our environmental past. Dedicating Northern Michigan lands to building a public forest out of ravaged land in the early 1900s, standing up to developers who wanted to despoil the Porcupine Mountains in the 1950s and 1960s, and laying down the law on flagrant polluters in the 1960s and 1970s all took political guts, supported by law.
The Line 5 shutdown announcement brought to mind the epic fight over protection of the Pigeon River Country State Forest in the 1970s and early 1980s. This northern Lower Peninsula gem had fed the imagination of a young Ernest Hemingway and had been cobbled together by P.S. Lovejoy, considered Michigan’s equivalent of Aldo Leopold. Lovejoy dubbed the preserve “The Big Wild” and said it “should be left plenty bumpy and bushy and some so you go in on foot—or don’t go at all.”
The discovery of petroleum reserves under the Pigeon River Country State Forest in 1970 fueled an unwise decision by the DNR to offer drilling leases to petroleum companies. Determined to fight for the Big Wild, a legion of individuals, conservation and environmental groups, and editorial writers turned the battle into a test of state priorities. Specifically, weren’t there some publicly owned areas of the state that should be off limits to resource exploitation because of their beauty and significance, and the risk of a catastrophic accident? Governor William Milliken, urged on by First Lady Helen Milliken, took the side of the protectors.
The contest rose all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court, which ruled in 1979, under the Michigan Environmental Protection Act, that drilling could result in unacceptable destruction of the Forest’s herd of 255 elk. Coupled with another Supreme Court decision the same month on a separate drilling appeal in the Forest, the decision effectively barred drilling there.
It was a monumental victory for the forest protectors, but it also sowed the seeds of a partial defeat. Michigan’s economy was struggling and oil companies wooed lawmakers with visions of riches from petroleum development. Rather than lose everything, some members of the coalition of forest guardians compromised on a limited, phased development plan. And out of the controversy rose the idea of dedicating revenues from petroleum development on state lands to public land acquisition. That idea grew into the constitutionally protected Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, which has now spent more than $1 billion to give the public access to state and local parks, Great Lakes shoreline, scenic wonders, hunting and fishing recreation, public forestland, and more.
The parallel to Line 5 is not exact except in its lesson that a persistent, well-organized, and well-informed citizen coalition is critical to protecting the best of Michigan. And it shows that public officials who look beyond the moment can take action with significance for decades to come.
Last week’s announcement was one of the finest hours in Michigan’s conservation history. The battle is far from over, but it is headed toward protection of our Great Lakes. I am proud that FLOW and its public trust law and advocacy were a big part of it.
Jim Olson is FLOW’s Founder, President, and Legal Advisor
By Jim Olson
In the end, their legal duty under public trust law, and the clear and present danger from the anchor strikes and currents of the 67-year-old dual oil pipelines, left only one choice for Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and her Department of Natural Resources Director Daniel Eichinger: Revoke and terminate the easement allowing Line 5 to occupy the Straits of Mackinac, as they did on November 13 in a strong and necessary action.
The Governor and other top state officials have a duty as trustees under the Public Trust Doctrine to prevent unacceptable harm to the Great Lakes and the public’s right to use them. This duty lasts forever. By the very nature of its easement to use public trust bottomlands and waters in the Straits, Line 5-owner Enbridge accepted the easement subject to the state’s paramount perpetual duty to prevent injury to the public trust in the Great Lakes. The dual pipelines and conditions in 2020 surrounding it are not the same as the original understanding of engineers and State officials back in 1953, when Line 5 was installed in the open waters of the Straits connecting Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. Under public trust law, the Governor and state officials’ hands are not tied by what state officials understood and did 67 years ago.
Public trust law and circumstances would condemn any state leader, elected or appointed, for gross negligence and reckless breach of their trust duty if he or she failed to take action. When Michigan joined the Union in 1837, it took title to all navigable waters, including the bottomlands and waters of the Great Lakes. It took the title subject to an irrepealable public trust duty to prevent alienation of this title for private purposes and to prevent impairment of these trust lands and waters from impairment in perpetuity—meaning for present and future generations.
Attorney General Dana Nessel and her experienced and seasoned staff have been steadfast in enforcing the binding rule of public trust law that protects the Great Lakes and the public’s trust interests as legal beneficiaries. No matter what Enbridge argues, the Canadian company took the easement to use the bottomlands and waters of the Straits of Mackinac subject to the Public Trust Doctrine, recognized by the courts of every state and the United States Supreme Court, including in the landmark 1892 Illinois Central Railroad case.
That decision revoked a grant of the bottomlands of Lake Michigan for a private industrial complex on Chicago’s waterfront because it violated the public trust law that protects the Great Lakes. Grants of easements or the right to use public trust lands and waters have always been, and always will be, subject to the inherent legal condition that it can be revoked when the risk or danger of devastating harm passes the threshold of a risk of impairment; that is, what would be an unacceptable set of conditions and danger to a reasonable, sensible person.
Line 5 passed that threshold many years ago.
To reach that conclusion, Michigan’s leaders dug into the facts, data, and studies finally disclosed by Enbridge after demands from the DNR, the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), and the Attorney General’s office, and the order entered by the Circuit Court for Ingham County last summer. The reality is that strong currents, anchor and cable strikes, storms, continued scouring of bottomlands under the pipes, the suspension of more than 3 miles of pipeline on 228 anchor posts screwed into the bottomlands as “repairs”—when, in fact, there has been an overall, massive design change in the structure—have put the dual pipes in the Straits on the brink. This danger is compounded by the fact that these newly discovered and uncontrollable conditions, events, and grave dangers have never been evaluated or authorized under the State’s public trust laws by any governmental agency.
Enbridge has enjoyed a nearly free ride, reaping several hundred million dollars a year in revenues from Line 5 the past two decades; the dual lines, in fact all of Line 5, are well past the safe and reasonable life of a pipeline built 67 years ago. The company now has 6 months to make the transition to a permanent shutdown of Line 5, and there will be little if any negative effect on gasoline prices and energy supplies, according to extensive research, as well as recent experience, when damage to Line 5 in the Straits caused it to be fully and then partially closed for several weeks this past summer. Meanwhile, the positive effect will be that all can rest more peacefully knowing that a bright line is drawn and the time is coming for Enbridge to adjust its massive North American pipeline network to meet any needs not filled by competing pipeline companies for crude oil at regional refineries.
There will be plenty of jobs tied to the proper decommissioning of the lines, and more jobs in adjusting the existing capacity of Enbridge’s overall pipeline system in Michigan, like the extra 400,000 barrels of oil per day of design capacity in Line 78 that replaced Enbridge’s smaller Line 6B that ruptured in 2010 and devastated the Kalamazoo River. And clean energy will provide many more Michigan jobs than Enrbidge ever has, without risking the Great Lakes.
A risk and economic study commissioned by FLOW and conducted by a Michigan State University ecological economist estimated that the damages from a spill or leak from the dual pipes in the Straits would exceed $6 billion. Although the concerns about propane supplies for customers in rural areas of the Upper Peninsula are important, the U.P. Energy Task Force propane report and other independent reports show that new competition and infrastructure adjustments for propane service in the U.P. should be encouraged and can be in place by May of 2021. Moreover, the reality right now is that the need for crude oil is rapidly declining because of the United States’ and the world’s shift to renewable energy to diminish the deadly, crippling, and unaffordable and irreparable damage from climate change.
This is not 1953, when Line 5 was built and color TV was a brand new innovation in the United States. This is not 2003 either, when Line 5 reached the end of its intended lifespan and Enbridge started adding screw anchors in an attempt to “repair” a failing design because of unanticipated strong currents in the Straits of Mackinac—well documented by data and science. This is 2020, a far different world, facing a climate crisis and global freshwater scarcity. It’s a world in which our leaders are elected to make hard decisions to protect their citizens, as any trustee has a fiduciary duty to do regardless of politics or popularity. The Great Lakes, and the protected public trust rights therein to drink, fish, boat, bathe, and otherwise benefit from these public waters, are paramount.
Under public trust law, Michigan’s Governor, Attorney General, and DNR Director have put the public interest and good of all above the self-interests of a private corporation that will continue to survive only if it accepts that it is doing business in 2020, not 1953. Indeed, it’s time for all of us to accept and conform to this realization.