Tag: For Love of Water

Down to the Wire in the Lame Duck: Lansing Attacks Threaten our Waters and Values

Photo credit: Charles Brackett

Michigan’s waters and environmental values are under attack.

In the next two weeks, Michigan citizens have an opportunity to defend them from a lame duck Legislature that is defying the clear mandate of the State Constitution and the preferences of strong majorities of Michigan voters.

Michiganders are not clamoring to leave 500,000 acres of wetlands, over 3,000 lakes and over 20,000 miles of streams undefended. They are not calling for Michigan environmental standards to be weakened to minimum federal requirements. They are not asking the state to take away the authority of their local governments to enact tree ordinances or protect groundwater from failing septic systems. And Michiganders are not calling for continued operation for 10 more years of decaying petroleum pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac by and for the benefit of a Canadian company with a shoddy environmental track record. Yet all these things could become law before the end of 2018.

We have assembled the information on these and other looming policy choices here.

Please take a few minutes to learn about one or more of these issues and make your views known to the legislators who are charged with representing you.


Protecting the Great Lakes and the Mackinac Bridge from Enbridge – or Not

A view from the Mackinac Bridge of the Straits of Mackinac, just east of where the Enbridge Line 5 oil pipelines (not visible) cross along the bottom.

Action Expected Dec. 11 in House, After Michigan Senate Passes Oil Tunnel Bill Still Tied to the Mackinac Bridge

The Michigan Senate on Wednesday, December 5, voted 25-13, mostly along party lines with Republicans in favor, to pass a hastily revised “substitute 2” version of Senate Bill 1197 – the Line 5 oil tunnel bill – that utterly fails to protect the Mackinac Bridge, the Great Lakes, or Michigan taxpayers. (You can click here and go to page 1977 to see how each Senator voted).

Sobering news in the Senate

After a flood of public opposition to the proposed oil tunnel being owned and run by the same state authority board that owns and operates the beloved Mackinac Bridge, the Senate made and approved quick revisions that attempted, but failed, to address that concern – contrary to widespread reporting.

The resulting bill, which was not made public until after it passed, leaves the Mighty Mac in peril, taxpayers on the hook, and the Great Lakes at increased risk of an oil spill disaster during the decade that Enbridge would be granted to keep running the damaged Line 5 in the Mackinac Straits while deciding whether or not to build a tunnel.

The very first line of the passed bill, with changes indicated in capitals in the original text, says, “An act authorizing the Mackinac bridge authority to acquire a bridge AND A UTILITY TUNNEL….” And then in a new Section 14, the bill states at the outset, “THE MACKINAC BRIDGE AUTHORITY MAY ACQUIRE, CONSTRUCT, OPERATE, MAINTAIN, IMPROVE, REPAIR, AND MANAGE A UTILITY TUNNEL.”

A few paragraphs later, the bill says that these powers over the proposed tunnel eventually will transfer to the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority, which does not exist yet. To get past that stumbling block, the bill gives all the powers, and likely all the liability too, to both the existing Mackinac Bridge Authority and the anticipated one, and declares the problem solved. The bill also anticipates draining $500,000 a year from Mackinac Bridge revenue, which is earned by allowing fiber optics to cross the bridge that instead would be moved to the tunnel.

The ill-conceived and unconstitutional Senate bill is the key vehicle in a Republican-led race to guarantee a private oil tunnel for Enbridge under the Mackinac Straits before January 1, when incoming Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel – both of whom are Democrats and tunnel opponents – take office.

In addition to risking the Mackinac Bridge, Michigan Senate Bill 1197:
  • Gives a shareholder-owned foreign company free access to the public’s Great Lakes water and bottomlands, untold millions of taxpayer dollars for state oversight (Gov. Snyder has requested $4.5 million in public funds so far) and a legal defense fund, and some cover from liability as the state takes on ownership of infrastructure that poses a risk to leak and/or explode, cripple the regional economy, and pollute the drinking water for Mackinac Island, St. Ignace, and half of all Michiganders.
  • Increases the odds of a catastrophic oil spill in the Mackinac Straits, where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron, by allowing the cracked and dented Line 5 pipelines at least another decade of non-stop oil pumping through 2028, when Line 5 would be 75 years old, while Enbridge considers, but is not required to build, a tunnel.
  • Requires the as-yet non-existent Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority to approve by December 31– less than four weeks from now – a series of agreements being negotiated by the Snyder administration in private with Enbridge for building the tunnel, deeding it to the state, and then leasing the tunnel back for 99 years. The secret process shuts out lawmakers, citizens, businesses, and tribes from the opportunity to review, understand, and oppose or strengthen the pacts to benefit the public. 
Reasons for hope in the House?

Action now moves to the state House of Representatives, where a number of lawmakers in both parties have previously raised concerns about Senate Bill 1197’s potential impact on the Mackinac Bridge, Michigan taxpayers, and the Great Lakes, which provides drinking water for half of Michiganders. Initial information suggests we have a few days to regroup and reach out to state Representatives.  The Enbridge oil tunnel bill likely will be taken up on Tuesday, December 11, by the Michigan House Government Operations Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Lee Chatfield. 

We urge you to contact Rep. Chatfield and other members of the committee with your concerns, using our bulleted list from above. In addition, if your state Representative is not on that committee, you can contact your lawmaker using this lookup, in anticipation of the bill in some form possibly clearing committee next week and reaching the full House.

And please know that your email or call makes a difference and is magnified by all of the other supporters of FLOW and our allied groups , families, businesses, and governments in the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign, which is co-directed by FLOW, and many others united by the threat from the oil tunnel scheme.  Simply put, the Great Lakes belong to all of us, and FLOW and our partners are working to keep it that way.


Line 5 – a Long-Term Asset? Not a Chance in this Century

Photo credit: Nancy May

By Liz Kirkwood and Skip Pruss

Substitute Bill SB 1197 continues to be riddled with faulty assumptions and logic that favor and bend towards Enbridge’s private corporate shareholder interests. Most glaring of all is the audacious and misguided underlying assertion that we humans will continue to rely on a fossil fuel based economy over the next 99 years (the length of the proposed tunnel lease agreement between Enbridge and the State of Michigan).

The proposed tunnel agreement apparently is supposed to create “a mechanism to ensure that a utility tunnel is built with sufficient technical specifications and is maintained properly to ensure a long asset life and secondary containment for any leak or pollution from utilities using the tunnel.” 14(D)(4)(D). 

Given accelerating trends in fossil fuel divestment, finance and asset management, and the electrification of transportation, continued investment in fossil fuel infrastructure is a risky proposition and completely at odds with the urgent and universally recognized need to reduce GHG emissions.

Accordingly, there is no realistic “mechanism” that Enbridge and the State of Michigan can craft to “ensure a long asset life” for Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline tunnel wish.

FLOW’s chair, Skip Pruss, documents the fundamental energy shift we are seeing right before our eyes and explains why we must not invest in multi-billion fossil fuel infrastructure assets like a new Line 5 pipeline tunnel under our Great Lakes. In fact, Skip points out that even the world’s leading oil producers are abandoning the tar sands investments that drive Enbridge’s Canadian oil transport roadmap into North America and the Great Lakes.

Finance/Asset management – Asset managers are under increasing pressure to divest fossil fuel holdings.  As of 2018, nearly 1000 institutions have pledge to divest $6.24 trillion in fossil fuel assets. Examples include the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund ($910 billion), the Rockefeller Family Fund and the California Public Employees Retirement System fund ($292 billion).  Over 120 universities and colleges have committed to fully or partially divest their holdings in fossil fuel companies.

Investment trends – Global investment in renewable energy exceeded $333 billion in 2017 while investment in fossil fuels and nuclear energy totaled $144 billion.  At the same time,

  • A recent WSJ analysis indicates shale oil and gas sector has lost $280 billion since 2007.
  • Seven international oil companies – Exxon Mobil, Conoco Phillips, Statoil, Koch Industries, Marathon, Imperial Oil and Royal Dutch Shell – will not need Enbridge’s future pipeline services as they have announced that they are writing off tar sand assets in Alberta.
  • New Zealand and Ireland  have recently announced there intentions to decarbonize their economies.
  • Xcel Energy, electricity provider to eight states, announced that it will end the use of fossil fuels decarbonize its entire electric generation capacity.

Electrification of transportation– Recent petroleum sector forecasts by firms specializing in energy trends like Bloomberg, Navigant, and Goldman Sachs, predict that the transition to electric vehicles will accelerate quickly with a corresponding, precipitous drop in the demand for transportation fuels. 

  • The world’s major auto manufacturers are validating these predictions. General Motors, VW, Volvo, and others are making clear that petroleum-free electric drivetrains will dominate their future manufacturing investments and that future product offerings will not use transportation fuels.  VW alone, intends to invest $84 billion in transitioning to electric vehicles.
  • Oil demand is dropping faster than anticipated due to the electrification of transportation.
  • England, France, Israel, Norway, Netherlands, Slovenia, India, Egypt, and China have announced their intentions to ban future sales and, in some cases, the use of vehicles with internal combustion engines. Ireland has gone even further, announcing that it will divest its sovereign interest in all oil, gas and coal.

Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director

Climate change has also increased actuarial uncertainties. The increasing frequency and severity of storm events necessitates recalibration of analytical models predicting impacts and losses.  Insurance industry regulators are imposing more rigorous disclosure requirements and improved assessment and management of investment portfolios to mitigate risk. Moody’s Investors Service, announced recently that it would give more weight to climate change risks in evaluating the creditworthiness of state and local governments.

Skip Pruss, FLOW Chair

In sum, the facts simply don’t add up to justify the State of Michigan investing with Enbridge to construct a pipeline tunnel for the next 99 years. At this time in history, we must pivot and focus on solving complex systemic anthropogenic climate change impacts, rather than further contributing to it.  Let’s encourage our Michigan leaders to put the interests of the Great Lakes and its people and tribes first by planning for our energy transition and inevitable future.



Legislature’s Assault on Environment Defies State Constitution

Photo credit: Charles Brackett

In the midst of multiple legislative attacks on environmental laws and natural resources that Michiganders cherish, it is tempting to despair.  But at FLOW we seek positive, right solutions based on the principle that no matter who a person is, no matter her or his walk of life or political persuasion, we are a democracy based on the equitable and just rule of law. Let’s start with our state’s current Constitution of 1963. In Article IV, Section 52, it declares and mandates:

“The conservation and development of the natural resources of the state are hereby declared to be of paramount public concern in the interests of health, safety, and general welfare of the people. The legislature shall provide for the protection of the air, water and other natural resources of the state from pollution, impairment or destruction.” [Emphases added]

Could the wording be any clearer? The Michigan Supreme Court in 1974 interpreted this language to mean that the paramount concern for public health, safety, and welfare and the protection of our air, water, and natural resources from pollution, impairment, or destruction imposed a duty on the state to prevent degradation of the environment and health. The Court ruled that the provision was self-executing to the extent that the legislature “shall” enact laws that prevent pollution, impairment, or destruction.  

Jim Olson, President and Founder

Put another way, it means the legislature is not authorized to pass laws that do the opposite!  Yet that is exactly what a core mob of our current legislators is doing amidst the celebration of the light and joy of Christmas. The “lame-duck year of the Grinch?” I suppose so.   But no matter what the label, I think it is high time for all of us to insist that whoever runs for, or is sworn into, office to represent us, the sovereign people, they be required to follow the State Constitution, not thumb their nose at it.  It is time legislators spend less time looking at the size of their donations, or their self-interested ideology, and more time reading and abiding our State Constitution.


Presto! Another Tunnel Bill Appears, as Michigan Lawmakers Rush to Save Enbridge from the Public’s Will

In response to an outpouring of bipartisan public pressure to save the Mackinac Bridge from Enbridge, the shareholder-owned Canadian corporation, Michigan Senate Republicans today released yet another rushed version of their Senate Bill 1197 that makes matters worse for the Mighty Mac, the Great Lakes, and Michigan taxpayers.

Specifically, in a race to guarantee a private oil tunnel for Enbridge under the Mackinac Straits before January 1, when incoming Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel – both of whom are Democrats and tunnel opponents – take office, Michigan Senate Bill 1197 (Click here for SB 1197, Substitute 2, Draft 3):

  • Gives a shareholder-owned foreign company free access to the public’s Great Lakes water and bottomlands, untold millions of taxpayer dollars for state oversight and a legal defense fund, and some cover from liability as the state takes on ownership of infrastructure that poses a risk to leak and/or explode and pollute the drinking water for Mackinac Island, St. Ignace, and half of all Michiganders.
  • Incredibly, still risks the Mackinac Bridge by creating a new state body to own and govern the proposed tunnel that would be housed as a sub-authority – the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority – within the Mackinac Bridge Authority, continuing to extend liability for the private oil tunnel to the Mackinac Bridge. Exact language, with the newly proposed text underlined: “An act authorizing the Mackinac bridge authority to acquire a bridge and a utility tunnel connecting the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan…”. The bill also anticipates draining $500,000 a year from bridge revenue for allowing fiber optics access that would be moved to the tunnel.
  • Increases the odds of a catastrophic oil spill in the Mackinac Straits, where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron, by allowing the cracked and dented Line 5 pipelines at least another decade of non-stop oil pumping through 2028, when Line 5 would be 75 years old, while Enbridge considers, but is not required to build, a tunnel.
  • Requires the as-yet non-existent Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority to approve by December 31 – less than four weeks from now – a series of agreements being negotiated by the Snyder administration in private with Enbridge for building the tunnel, deeding it to the state, and then leasing the tunnel back for 99 years. The secret process shuts out lawmakers, citizens, businesses, and tribes from the opportunity to review, understand, and oppose or strengthen the pacts to benefit the public. 

“Michiganders know it takes more time to buy a house than the Snyder administration and Senate Republicans are allowing for drafting, reviewing, and signing this bill and the secret contracts,” said Liz Kirkwood, FLOW’s Executive Director. “The intended winner from this fast-and-loose process: Enbridge, a private foreign corporation. The loser: the Mackinac Bridge, the Great Lakes, and Michigan taxpayers. It makes you wonder who lawmakers are really representing.”


We should strengthen, not weaken wetland protection

This month, in its lame duck session, the Michigan Legislature intends to pass a number of bills harming public health and welfare and the environment – all without meaningful public input or debate.  Included within this eleventh-hour debacle is Senate Bill 1211, sponsored by outgoing Senator Tom Casperson, chair of the Senate Natural Resources Committee.

SB 1211 dramatically weakens Parts 301 and 303 of the Michigan Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, known respectively, when first enacted, as the Michigan Inland Lakes and Stream Act and Wetlands Protection Act.  The Casperson bill constricts the definitions of “inland lakes” and “wetlands,” significantly reducing both regulatory oversight and the protection afforded these critically important resources.

SB 1211 doubles the minimum size of protected wetlands from five to 10 acres and cripples future enforcement of violations of the act by imposing a new requirement on the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) to not only prove that a violation occurred when a wetland is harmed or destroyed, but also show that the violator was legally negligent.  

The 6.5 million acres of Michigan wetlands that remain are the nurseries for our Great Lakes and freshwater inland lakes; they are fecund biological niches where synergies among biota provide food and habitat for countless insects, fish, reptiles, birds, and mammals.  Limnologists regard wetlands as “biological super systems” and compare them to rain forests because of the complexity and variety of organisms and plant life they harbor.

More than that, wetlands provide a huge array of ecological services that have immense value:

  • Water storage
  • Flood prevention
  • Groundwater recharge
  • Water purification
  • Nutrient retention
  • Erosion and sedimentation control
  • Shoreline protection

These ecological services protect communities and private property, imparting value and preventing loss – all free of charge.

It has been estimated by the United Nations Ecological, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Ramsar Convention on Wetlands that wetlands provide trillions of dollars in annual health and ecological benefits worldwide.   

Beyond that, recent studies have revealed that wetland soils are a huge carbon sink, absorbing and sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in quantities 20 – 80 times greater than agricultural soils.  Maintaining the vitality of wetlands will become a central strategy in combating climate change.

Yet all of these benefits are either unknown to or callously dismissed by Senator Casperson and the Michigan legislature.

In the 1970’s, a Republican governor of Michigan with strong bipartisan support signed into law both the Inland Lakes and Streams Act and the Wetland Protection Act.  The legislative findings and declarations that precede Part 303 were based upon our best science and shared appreciation of the rich natural resource heritage that defines our state and values.  The recitation of benefits accruing from wetlands is unique in Michigan’s environmental code and remains a tribute to good governance:

(1) The legislature finds that:

(a) Wetland conservation is a matter of state concern since a wetland of 1 county may be affected by acts on a river, lake, stream, or wetland of other counties.

(b) A loss of a wetland may deprive the people of the state of some or all of the following benefits to be derived from the wetland:

(i) Flood and storm control by the hydrologic absorption and storage capacity of the wetland.

(ii) Wildlife habitat by providing breeding, nesting, and feeding grounds and cover for many forms of wildlife, waterfowl, including migratory waterfowl, and rare, threatened, or endangered wildlife species.

(iii) Protection of subsurface water resources and provision of valuable watersheds and recharging ground water supplies.

(iv) Pollution treatment by serving as a biological and chemical oxidation basin.

(v) Erosion control by serving as a sedimentation area and filtering basin, absorbing silt and organic matter.

(vi) Sources of nutrients in water food cycles and nursery grounds and sanctuaries for fish.

(c) Wetlands are valuable as an agricultural resource for the production of food and fiber, including certain crops which may only be grown on sites developed from wetland.

(d) That the extraction and processing of nonfuel minerals may necessitate the use of wetland, if it is determined pursuant to section 30311 that the proposed activity is dependent upon being located in the wetland and that a prudent and feasible alternative does not exist.

(2) In the administration of this part, the department shall consider the criteria provided in subsection (1).

Strengthening wetland protection should be an economic and environmental imperative.  Every day, science brings new evidence that future generations are at risk, and that our future prosperity and fate are inextricably tied to our stewardship of the planet.  

All of this appears to be lost on Senator Casperson.  

Let’s hope that Governor Snyder has the foresight to wield the veto pen should SB 1211 land on his desk.      

To contact Governor Snyder, click here.


Welcome to the Lake Lovers

Editor’s Note: At FLOW, we couldn’t accomplish our work without support from our partners. Two great examples are The Boardman Review and Katherine Corden, both of whom are donating 5% of their proceeds from The Boardman Review Issue 6 and The Lake Lovers Collection, respectively. Check out both at the Boardman Review Launch party on December 2. Here is an introduction by Katherine’s cousin, Sam Corden, of the Lake Lovers Collection that reflects some of our own admiration and appreciation for our Great Lakes. 

Welcome to The Lake Lovers.

This latest series by Katherine is a tribute to our lovely home. A great state. The Great Lakes State.

When she first asked me to be a part of this piece, my fingers itched to write. Much of our childhood was spent along the shores of Lake Michigan, where we grew from little ones crawling in the sand, to now, young adults invested in the place that offered us so much to learn from and love.

For countless northern souls, the landscapes of rolling dunes, soft beneath your feet… the sounds of waves crashing rhythmically… or the October sun peering through golden leaves – that’s who you are. That’s what we are. It’s true that in Michigan you may find yourself in any number of abandoned factory towns, or in the depths of an unsightly salt mine; but if you choose to seek it, Michigan is a place that still offers the natural wonder that much of the world has lost… It’s a place to become a part of nature, all the while, the boundless beauty of Michigan becomes a part of you.

If you’re from Michigan, or even a transplant that it’s grabbed hold of, then you know – it isn’t just where we grew up; it’s a place that raised us. It’s turned me into the environmentalist that I am, and it’s turned Katherine into the painter that you’ve all come to know. Now in our older years, each in our own way, we’re finding paths to begin serving as the new generation of lake protectors – ensuring that same love is passed forward for years to come. Hopefully her new series of beach bums and linens, summer days and friends, will help to remind you that it’s a corner of the planet worth preserving, no matter the effort it may take from us all.

Part of the Lake Lovers Collection by Katherine Corden

The mitten has 3,288 miles of shoreline. Within the U.S., that’s second only to Alaska.

Our state is home to more than 11,000 inland lakes. That means anytime you’re in need of a swim, wherever you may be, you’re never beyond a six-mile stroll with a furry friend.

And most amazingly, we have more than 20% of the worlds accessible fresh water at our feet. That fact alone deserves a humbling sense of appreciation. 20. Percent.

What a rarity that the earth should form itself in a way that lets us swim in not one freshwater ocean, but five. What fortune to have beaches that rival the sandy Mecca’s of Mozambique or California. What fortune to have fish and waterfowl alongside the stags. Pines alongside the dunes. Lovers alongside the lakes.

Michigan is a place unlike anywhere else I’ve found; and though I haven’t been everywhere in the world, my list is long. Nowhere else has ever given me the feeling… the essence, that only Michigan can. The midwestern kindness that welcomes you in; the smell of each season that so brazenly arrives; the soft glow of the 45th parallel that lets you know: You’ve arrived north.

However romantic our home may be, it’s important to remember that beyond the sheer beauty that The Lake Lovers revels in, it’s up to all of us to cherish what we’ve been so generously gifted, and to ensure that we share it responsibly. Every Michigander isn’t lucky in the same way. Some may never get close to its pristine shorelines, nor even drink clean water from their tap. Native children can no longer access the waterways that their ancestors once fished; and urban children may never know the sounds of the woods around them. These are issues that an Instagram post will never fix, but throughout this series, Katherine and I will be trying our best to shed a little light where we can, how we can. Whether it’s voting for environmental candidates on the 6th, or simply remembering to make some alone time with nature while you collect a bag of litter, what you choose to do with the inspiration that stems from her colors or my words, is entirely up to you.

Just remember: Even if you’re not lucky enough to be loving the lake today… love those near and far; love the crisp autumn air with no distraction but the sound of your feet; love the sun and the rain and all that you can; because, at the end of the day, it’s all that we’ve got, and loving it is all up to you.

See you again soon.



The Lake Lovers

Essay by: Sam Corden

Journalist. Photographer. Environmentalist.

Sam is a Michigan native based in New Haven, CT, pursuing a Masters of Environmental Management with the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

Website: www.samcordenphotography.com
Instagram: @great_white_northern_light

Artwork by: Katherine Corden

Fine Artist. Physical Therapist. Lake Lover.

Katherine is also a Michigan native currently based in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband Dave. Sam is Katherine’s first cousin and first best friend, more like a brother really. She’s thankful to have someone she is close with be able to articulate what her artwork represents. She is excited to bring more purpose to her painting by giving back 5% of her “Lake Lovers” series proceeds to FLOW and looks forward to seeing her contribution grow along with her art business.

Website: www.katherinecorden.com
Instagram: @katherinecorden.art
Facebook: www.facebook.com/katherinecorden.art

Photography by: Meredith Johnson
Instagram: @mmjon 

Stop the Wetlands Wrecking Ball

Legislation introduced this week in the State Capitol would open hundreds of thousands of acres of wetlands and thousands of inland lakes to destruction.  Senate Bill 1211 attacks Michigan’s nationally recognized wetland protection act and the benefits wetlands provide — including clean water, floodwater storage, fish and wildlife habitat and mitigation of climate change through carbon storage.

Senate Bill 1211 is also a sneak attack.  Its sponsor, Senator Tom Casperson, intends to rush the bill through the Legislature in the 5 weeks before he and other lame duck legislators leave office, giving citizens who care about protection of our valuable wetlands little time to halt the legislation.

Click here to learn more about Senate Bill 1211.

You can make your voice heard by contacting your state legislator using the message at this link as a template. 

To get contact information for your legislator,
click here for the State Senate and here for the State House.


Lame Ducks, Lamer Policies

When Michigan voters cast ballots November 6, they did not express support for attacks on the state’s water resources.  But that’s what they may be getting from Lansing between now and the end of 2018.

In politics, lame ducks are officeholders whose successors have been elected but whose terms haven’t expired.  “Lame” may imply powerlessness, but in fact lame duck officials possess a dangerous power.  They can enact or repeal laws without accountability.  Michigan’s lame duck Governor Rick Snyder and dozens of legislators who won’t return next year are plotting several attacks on the environment.  To put these attacks in a legal framework, Article 4, Section 52 of our state’s constitution declares that the public’s concern for air, water, and natural resources is “paramount,” and mandates that the legislature “shall enact laws that protect the air, water, and natural resources from pollution, impairment, or destruction.”  These lame duck officeholders are determined to do the opposite.

The most prominent of these is Senate Bill 1197, concerning Line 5 and the Mackinac Bridge, sponsored by lame duck Senator Tom Casperson, a Republican from Escanaba.  It would grant Enbridge Energy a blessing to operate its risky 65-year-old petroleum pipelines under the Straits of Mackinac for another decade.  It would do so by diluting the mission of the state’s Mackinac Bridge Authority to include acquisition of lands for, and ownership of, an oil tunnel beneath the Straits. The tunnel, if ever built, would expose the Authority and the taxpayers of Michigan to liability if it ever results in a spill or other accident. 

Coupled with a proposed agreement between the state and Enbridge, the bill seeks to lock the state into a 99-year lease for the Canadian company to use the Straits as a shortcut for routing Canadian crude oil to the Canadian refinery center of Sarnia, Ontario.  Why the haste to finalize a nearly century-long deal in a five-week lame duck session, especially when the new governor and attorney general have expressed opposition to the decaying pipelines and the replacement tunnel?

Concerned citizens from across Michigan are converging on the Capitol Tuesday, November 27 for a Lame Duck Lobby Day against Senate Bill 1197 and the bad Enbridge deal.

This ill-conceived legislation is not the only attack on environmental protections that could become law in the lame duck session.  Others include:

  • Weakening the state’s wetland law to exclude many important, sensitive waters from protection.  The proposal would essentially dumb down Michigan’s wetlands law to meet weak definitions being pursued by the Trump Administration and expose over half a million acres of wetlands to destruction.
  • Weakening the state’s approach to cleanup of chemical contamination, making it harder to set binding cleanup standards and to protect the most sensitive populations, women of child-bearing age and children.
  • Weakening protection of the environment from toxic coal ash by creating a state coal ash landfill program with minimal standards that could allow arsenic and lead in groundwater.
  • Setting weak standards for protection of groundwater and surface water from failing septic systems.  Only Michigan of the 50 states lacks a statewide code for regulation of septic systems, but the bills on which the lame duck Legislature may act fall well short of what is needed.

A few proposals good for Michigan’s environment may get a hearing, too.   Bills to create a sustainable funding source for replacing aging water infrastructure, water quality monitoring, recycling, and contaminated site cleanup may be considered, as well as a measure providing fair tax treatment for small-scale solar generation. 

But the bad far outweighs the good in this lame duck Legislature.  FLOW will work to keep you informed of these threats and what you can do about them during the remainder of 2018.

Take Action Today to Oppose Michigan’s Senate Bill 1197 and Save the Mackinac Bridge from Enbridge Line 5

FLOW President Jim Olson addresses the board of the Mackinac Bridge Authority at its Nov. 8, 2018, meeting in St. Ignace.

FLOW is urging supporters to contact your Michigan lawmakers today using our guidance below and to plan to join FLOW and other leaders of the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign who are hosting a Line 5 lawmaker lobby day for Tuesday, November 27, in Lansing, to fight for the Great Lakes and the Mackinac Bridge by opposing Governor Snyder’s Enbridge oil tunnel scheme and shutting down Line 5 in the Mackinac Straits.

In coordination with the Snyder administration, departing State Sen. Tom Casperson, a Republican from Escanaba, on November 8 introduced Senate Bill 1197 to amend the Mackinac Bridge Authority Act to allow it to own and operate a “utility tunnel,” with the Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline as the intended occupant. There’s also the uncertain prospect of adding gas or electric lines, which could rent space in the tunnel by paying Enbridge, not the bridge authority that is proposed to own it. In fact, if the fiber optic lines that currently cross the Mackinac Bridge were moved to the proposed tunnel, Enbridge could gain more than $500,000 a year in lease revenue currently going to operate and maintain the bridge.

Please use our updated Line 5 oil tunnel fact sheet to get informed and share it with your lawmakers and others who can help stand up for the Great Lakes and the Mighty Mac. Here are the three key points to make when contacting your lawmaker (You can look up your state representative here and state senator here).

Senate Bill 1197:

  1. Fails to address the imminent risk of the decaying Line 5 pipelines lying on the bottom of the Great Lakes for 10 years or more. The deal struck by Gov. Snyder and Enbridge would lock in, by right, the operation of the 65-year old, gouged, damaged, and deteriorating Line 5 dual pipelines across the Straits of Mackinac for at least the 10-year period it is expected that tunnel construction would take.  At any future time, if the Enbridge decides not to build the tunnel, the agreement would obligate future governors to keep Line 5 in the waters of the Mackinac Straits indefinitely!
  2. Compromises the mission of the Mackinac Bridge Authority (MBA) and the Mighty Mac itself. For more than 60 years, the Mackinac Bridge Authority has overseen and managed Michigan’s most iconic asset with no hint of controversy and with impeccable performance. This proposed legislation would draw the MBA into the middle of a major controversy with no other purpose than to allow a private, Canadian oil company to continue using a short cut across Michigan and through the Great Lakes to transport oil from western Canadian oil fields to eastern Canadian refineries, with some of that oil being shipped overseas.
  3. Exposes the Mackinac Bridge Authority, toll payers, and taxpayers to financial peril. Since its beginning, the Mackinac Bridge was designed to be funded through the tolls collected by those crossing the bridge. The proposed legislation, which is designed to authorize the backroom deal struck by Gov. Snyder and Enbridge, opens up numerous areas of financial risk for the MBA and the public, including the potential liability in the event of an explosion or other catastrophe associated with the proposed tunnel or if Enbridge fails to keep its commitments to build and maintain the tunnel during the 99-year lease.

The Michigan Senate could quickly approve the bill in the lame duck session after Thanksgiving, and send it to the House. Gov. Snyder is seeking to sign and tie the hands of the incoming administration of Governor-elect Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General-elect Dana Nessel, who both campaigned for shutting down Line 5, not replacing it with a tunnel. Gov. Snyder also released a draft of a third oil tunnel agreement with Enbridge, which Senate Bill 1197 seeks to enact.

Click here for FLOW’s summary of recent action at the November 8 meeting of the Mackinac Bridge Authority. Stay tuned to the FLOW’s website for additional updates, legal analyses, and more steps that citizens, communities, and businesses can take to protect the Great Lakes and the Mighty Mac.