Tag: Gretchen Whitmer

Will Michigan Keep the Water on during COVID-19?

Pritchard is FLOW’s interim legal director

By Janet Meissner Pritchard

COVID-19 has already taken the lives of more than 8,100 Michiganders, and the pandemic is surging in Michigan, with more than 7,000 new cases per day diagnosed in Michigan over recent days. Given this grim context, it is essential for public health to secure access to safe, affordable drinking water for all Michiganders.

Since the onset of the pandemic, Governor Gretchen Whitmer has taken actions to do just that. In March, she issued an Executive Order requiring the restoration of water services for households whose water had been shut off due to inability to pay. In July, she extended that order to remain in place through December 2020, and state funds were authorized to help relieve water bill debt for families unable to pay during the public health emergency.

Michigan Senate Bill 241 Would Halt Water Shutoffs during the Pandemic

On October 12, however, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that most of Gov. Whitmer’s emergency orders issued after April 30 were unconstitutional, including those requiring water service restoration. On the same day, a group of Michigan legislators led by State Senator Stephanie Chang introduced a new version of Senate Bill 241 (SB241) that would effectively codify Whitmer’s emergency orders requiring the restoration of water services to keep these important protections in place while Michigan continues to battle COVID-19. The Executive Order issued in July had extended protections through the end of this year. In light of the continuing threat of the pandemic, legislators are expected to negotiate a new date through which these protections should remain in place.

Water shutoffs not only endanger the lives of those who cannot afford their water bills, but also the lives of others with whom they come into contact. As emphasized in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance on protection from the coronavirus, frequent and thorough hand washing is recommended to protect yourself and others from spreading the virus. Accordingly, clean and available water for all is essential to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

The duty to protect Michiganders now lies with the state legislature. In the month since the Michigan Supreme Court decision invalidated Governor Whitmer’s emergency orders, the legislature has restored some of those same orders, but not the temporary ban on household water shutoffs. Legislators are expected to consider SB241, however, when they reconvene in early December. Specifically, SB241 would: 

  • Put into place a moratorium on shutting off residential water for non-payment;
  • Restore residential water services to those without water due to non-payment;
  • Require the water utility to make a best effort to rectify the situation in cases where a residential unit lacks water but it is not due to non-payment,;
  • Mandate that water utilities report every 30 days on their efforts to identify residential units without water and to restore water services. 

Since the onset of the pandemic, 29 states have taken action to ensure residential access to safe water to fight COVID-19. With confirmed cases at their highest level ever, now is not the time to allow these protections to lapse in Michigan.

A Decades-long Fight for Water Justice

The People’s Water Board Coalition (PWBC) and the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization (MWRO) have been working for decades to secure protections against water shutoffs. Until recently, however, it has been difficult to obtain data on water shutoffs — households that have been shut off due to non-payment, shut off households where service has been restored, and households at risk of being shut off. Following Governor Whitmer’s emergency orders to restore water service to shut off households, PWBC, MWRO, and allied organizations successfully advocated for Michigan legislators to pass Senate Bill 690, which includes the appropriation of federal COVID-19 relief funds to support the restoration of water services. Advocates also successfully argued for this law to include data reporting measures requiring municipal water systems that apply for these funds to report information on water shutoffs, service restoration, and water bill arrearages to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). 

Using this data collected by DHHS, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has calculated that approximately 800,000 Michiganders — in both rural and urban communities — are water insecure. That is, they either live in households without access to residential water services or are at risk of having their water shut off if protective measures such as those in SB241 are not in place. According to data reported to DHHS by municipal water systems, water bills for 317,631 households throughout the state had fallen into arrears since March 1, 2020. Based upon an average household size of 2.49 per household, this equates to approximately 800,000 Michiganders — or about 8% of the state’s population — who are water insecure.

Without the protections afforded by SB241, this number will likely grow as the economic impacts of the pandemic continue. The water bill arrearage data reported to the MDHHS are an indication of Michiganders’ struggle to cope financially, even with the support provided to households through the federal CARES Act passed at the start of the pandemic crisis. Financial supports such as extended unemployment insurance and a moratorium on evictions are due to lapse on December 31, 2020, and have yet to be extended by the U.S. Congress. With the pandemic surging and uncertainty as to if or when the federal government will provide further financial support to struggling families, the number of water insecure households in Michigan is likely to surge as well, if SB241 is not passed by state legislators with urgency.  

FLOW and our allies are asking Michigan residents to contact your legislative representatives as soon as possible and urge them to support SB241. Here are some talking points to keep in mind: 

  • It is estimated that approximately 800,000 Michiganders are at risk of having their water shut off due to inability to pay their water bills during the pandemic, if the moratorium on shutoffs is not reinstated.  
  • The CDC states that frequent handwashing is an important measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 
  • Maintaining health measures like frequent handwashing is essential to slowing the spread of the coronavirus to enable the full reopening of Michigan’s economy and job recovery. 

Ask your state legislators: 

  • Will you support the passage of SB241 to secure access to safe tap water during this pandemic?
  • Will you ask your party’s legislative leaders to move SB241 quickly?

It is important to line up as many legislators as possible behind this bill. Click here to find contact information for your state senator. In particular, advocates of the bill are targeting the following state senators, so if you live in one of the districts identified below, your efforts to contact your senator could be particularly impactful. The number of water insecure households listed for each district is based on data recently reported to DHHS.

    • Sen. Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (16th district) has at least 4,098 households in his district that have fallen into arrears and are at risk of being shut off without SB241. 
      • (517) 373-5932
      • SenMShirkey@senate.michigan.gov
    • Sen. Dale Zorn (17th district) has at least 5,149 households in his district that have fallen into arrears and are at risk of being shut off without SB241. 
      • (517) 373-3543
      • SenDZorn@senate.michigan.gov
    • Sen. Pete Lucido (8th district) has at least 8,173 households in his district that have fallen into arrears and are at risk of being shut off without SB241. 
      • (517) 373-7670 or toll free at (855) DIST-008
      • SenPLucido@senate.michigan.gov
    • Sen. Curt VanderWall (35th district) has at least 276 households in his district that have fallen into arrears and are at risk of being shut off without SB241. 
      • (517) 373-1725
      • SenCVanderWall@senate.michigan.gov
    • Sen. Aric Nesbitt (26th district) has at least 781 households in his district that have fallen into arrears and are at risk of being shut off without SB241. 
      • (517) 373-0793
      • SenANesbitt@senate.michigan.gov
    • Sen. Jim Runestad (15th district) has at least 1,358 households in his district that have fallen into arrears and are at risk of being shut off without SB241. 
      • (517) 373-1758
      • SenJRunestad@senate.michigan.gov
    • Sen. Dan Lauwers (25th district) has at least 5,639 households in his district that have fallen into arrears and are at risk of being shut off without SB241. 
      • (517) 373-7708
      • SenDLauwers@senate.michigan.gov
    • Sen. Lana Theis (22nd district) has at least 744 households in her district that have fallen into arrears and are at risk of being shut off without SB241. 
      • (517) 373-2420 or toll free at (855) DIST-022
      • SenLTheis@senate.michigan.gov
    • Sen. Ruth Johnson (14th district) has at least 475 households in her district that have fallen into arrears and are at risk of being shut off without SB241. 
      • (517) 373-1636
      • SenRJohnson@senate.michigan.gov
    • Sen. Kim LaSata (21st district) has at least 2,566 households in her district that have fallen into arrears and are at risk of being shut off without SB241. 
      • (517) 373-6960
      • SenKLaSata@senate.michigan.gov
    • Sen. John Bizon (19th) has at least 11,784 households in his district that have fallen into arrears and are at risk of being shut off without SB241. 
      • (517) 373-2426
      • SenJBizon@senate.michigan.gov
    • Sen. Tom Barrett (24th district) has at least 805 households in his district that have fallen into arrears and are at risk of being shut off without SB241. 
      • (517) 373-3447
      • SenTBarrett@senate.michigan.gov
    • Sen. Kevin Daley (31st district) has at least 2,156 households in his district that have fallen into arrears and are at risk of being shut off without SB241. 
      • (517) 373-1777
      • SenKDaley@senate.michigan.gov
    • Sen. Ken Horn (32nd district): has at least 15,555 households in his district that have fallen into arrears and are at risk of being shut off without SB241. 
      • (517) 373-1760 or toll free (855) 347-8032
      • SenKHorn@senate.michigan.gov
    • Sen. Roger Victory (30th district) has at least 15 households in his district that have fallen into arrears and are at risk of being shut off without SB241. 
      • (517) 373-6920
      • SenRVictory@senate.michigan.gov
    • Sen. Jon Bumstead (34th district) has at least 7,591 households in his district that have fallen into arrears and are at risk of being shut off without SB241. 
      • (517) 373-1635
      • SenJBumstead@senate.michigan.gov
    • Sen. Rick Outman (33rd district) has at least 1,638 households in his district that have fallen into arrears and are at risk of being shut off without SB241. 
      • (517) 373-3760
      • SenROutman@senate.michigan.gov
    • Sen. Jim Stamas (36th district) has at least 1,450 households in his district that have fallen into arrears and are at risk of being shut off without SB241. 
      • (517) 373-7946 or toll free at (855) 347-8036
      • SenJStamas@senate.michigan.gov
    • Sen. Wayne Schmidt (37th district) has at least 2,107 households in his district that have fallen into arrears and are at risk of being shut off without SB241. 
      • (517) 373-2413
      • SenWSchmidt@senate.michigan.gov
    • Sen. Ed McBroom (38th district) has at least 4,581 households in his district that have fallen into arrears and are at risk of being shut off without SB241. 
  • Sen. Michael MacDonald (10th district) has at least 8,260 households in his district that have fallen into arrears and are at risk of being shut off without SB241.
    • (517) 373-7315 
    • SenMMacDonald@senate.michigan.gov

Fact Check: When Line 5 Shuts Down, Detroit Jets Will Still Fly and Union Refinery Jobs Will Still Exist

Photo credit: Kathryn DePauw

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

By FLOW Staff

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the State of Michigan have taken legal action to shut down Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac by next May to prevent a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes from the 67-year-old pipeline. Meanwhile, Line 5-owner Enbridge and its allies continue to engage in a Chicken Little “sky is falling” campaign, with the Canadian company claiming in recent days that, “shutting down Line 5 would cause shortages of crude oil for refineries in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and eastern Canada, as well as propane shortages in northern Michigan. It also would boost shipments of oil by rail or trucks, Enbridge said, without providing any evidence.

Enbridge’s drumbeat of fear has been building for a few years, for example, with a full-page advertisement in 2019 in the Traverse City Record-Eagle, alleging that “Shutting down Line 5, even temporarily, would mean lost union jobs, refinery closures, gas price spikes and greater harm to the regional economy every year.”

In fact, none of those predictions materialized when both legs of the dual Line 5 pipelines in the Straits were shut down for more than a week last June and one leg remained closed until about mid-September following damage that the U.S. Coast Guard said likely was caused by an Enbridge-contracted vessel. Research conducted during the partial shutdown by former Dow Chemical engineer Gary Street found that in August after more than 50 days with at least one leg of Line 5 closed, gasoline prices and supply were unaffected in Michigan and Canada.

The research results are consistent with these studies forecasting little if any change in energy costs after Line 5 shuts down for good:

Upon the shutdown of Line 5, available capacity and flexibility to meet energy demand in the Great Lakes region already exists in the North American energy pipeline system operated by Enbridge and its competitors.

  • Available capacity and flexibility to meet energy demand in the Great Lakes region already exists in the North American energy pipeline system operated by Enbridge and its competitors without threatening our public waters and Pure Michigan economy, according to FLOW’s experts.
  • A Line 5 shutdown could increase the cost of gasoline in metro Detroit by only about 2 cents a gallon, according to a 2017 study commissioned by the former Snyder administration.
  • Shutting down Line 5 would add just five 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.
  • The Upper Peninsula has viable options to Line 5 for its propane supply and economy, according to FLOW’s research.
  • Oil & Water Don’t Mix has a great animated video showing how the Upper Peninsula does not need Line 5’s propane.

Another claim regarding the impact of a Line 5 shutdown emerged last year from management of the PBF refinery in Toledo, Ohio. Likely at Enbridge’s behest, PBF warned of a refinery shutdown and loss of a thousand jobs if the supply provided by Line 5 is no longer available. The Toledo refinery, PBF suggested, has no other source of petroleum.

This assertion immediately raised the question: What kind of refinery management would leave itself vulnerable by receiving crude from only one source? It also directly contradicts statements PBF says in its own investor filings, as well as reports from market analysts. They emphasize the PBF refinery has several sources of supply and can adjust them depending on market conditions.

“The [PBF] refinery only processes light/medium and sweet crude and gets most of its WTI crude through pipeline from Canada, the mid-Continent, the Bakken region and the U.S. Gulf Coast,” an analyst says.  Another credits PBF with using “its complex crude processing capacity to source the lowest cost input.” PBF says in its 2016 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that crude is delivered to its facility through three primary pipelines, Line 5 from the north, Capline from the south, and Mid-Valley from the south. Crude is also delivered to a nearby terminal by rail and from local sources by a truck to truck unloading facility in the refinery property.

The fact is that multiple alternative pipelines, rail, and truck sources are and will be available to enable PBF to continue refining petroleum as it is today. No evidence points to job loss in Toledo from a Line 5 shutdown. And PBF itself said in a September 2017 news story challenging EPA regulations because of alleged job losses that the Toledo refinery employed 550, not 1,000 workers.

After Line 5 is shut down, the small percentage of its light crude coming to the U.S. could be supplied by other sources currently serving the region, including the Capline and Mid-Valley pipelines, along with crude from Northern Michigan oil wells.

Fanning employee and community fears with inflated claims is the latest in a series of tactics deployed by Enbridge and its allies to pressure Michigan officials into letting the company continue to occupy the Straits of Mackinac with its antiquated Line 5 pipeline, and later, a proposed oil pipeline tunnel under the lakebed.

PBF also claims that a feared Toledo refinery shutdown, which research cited above dispels, would seriously impinge on the supply of jet fuel at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, driving up fares or reducing flights, or both. The claim is that 40% of the jet fuel used at the airport comes from refined Line 5 petroleum. But PBF and the Marathon Detroit refineries appear to supply only about 9% of the jet fuel used at the airport each day, and again alternative pipeline sources can more than make that up.

It is worth noting that prior to PBF’s claims made in 2019, the impacts of a Line 5 shutdown on Metro Airport jet fuel had never before been raised as an issue in the Line 5 debate. Now Canadian officials are singing the same tune to bring political pressure on the Whitmer administration, claiming this week that Line 5 “is the single largest supply for gasoline, ultimately, in southern Ontario; for aviation fuel out of the Detroit airport; for heating fuel in northern Michigan; for the refineries in northern Ohio that fuel much of the Midwest U.S. economy.”

For its part, Enbridge has a track record of misleading the public and governments about its performance, including failure for 3 years to report bare spots in the protecting coating on Line 5 in the Straits, violating for several years the safety conditions of its easement agreement to occupy the public waters and bottomlands of the Straits, and running a dubious advertising campaign claiming to protect Michigan’s water. Enbridge’s and allies’ recent claims are consistent with the company’s apparent philosophy of avoiding transparency and saying anything to keep Line 5 petroleum and profits flowing.

Key Facts, in a Nutshell

Jobs, let’s talk jobs! 

Continuing to operate the decaying Line 5 risks jobs. Many jobs. Shutting down Line 5 will protect hundreds of thousands of jobs in Michigan’s tourism economy. According to a FLOW-commissioned report in May 2018 conducted by an Michigan State University ecological economist, direct spending by tourists supports approximately 221,420 jobs, and the total tourism economy in 2016, including direct, indirect and induced impacts, supported 337,490 jobs—approximately 6.1% of total employment in Michigan.

Toledo PBF Refinery 

  • Enbridge’s and fossil-fuel industry allies have a track record of false and unsubstantiated claims and a lack of transparency.
  • The numbers are inflated:
    • Enbridge and refineries and some politicians are misleading the public. They falsely claim that the two Toledo refineries and one Detroit refinery, and by extension the jobs there, are fully and wholly dependent on Line 5, including a large number of jobs at these refineries. The refineries supposedly affected are: Marathon-Detroit; BP-Husky-Toledo — which carries no Line 5 feedstock because it’s a tar sands refinery that takes feedstock from Line 78 (formerly Line 6B), and PBF-Toledo. PBF states in its 2018 annual report for stockholders that it “processes a slate of light crude oils from Canada, the Mid-continent and the U.S. Gulf Coast.”
    • The refineries rely on multiple pipelines and suppliers, and they say so in writing.
    • Marathon refinery primarily uses dilbit, which Line 5 doesn’t currently carry.

Detroit Metropolitan Airport

  • In a letter to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine claimed, “our refineries supply the majority of aviation fuels to Detroit Metro Airport” and asserted shutdown of Line 5 would lead to airline schedule disruptions.
  • But 2020 jet fuel consumption at Detroit Metro will total 1,658,000 gallons per day, according to a 2010 estimate by the airport. Based on numbers published by PBF, BP Husky and Marathon Refineries, Line 5 appears to supply only about 10% of the jet fuel at Detroit Metro Airport, not 40% as claimed by Ohio Gov. DeWine. Both Marathon and PBF have other crude oil sources, and therefore other pipelines could provide feedstock to satisfy regional jet fuel needs. Alternatively, other nearby refineries in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio could make up this shortfall.

Bottom line: Shutting down Line 5 will protect hundreds of thousands of jobs. A Line 5 shutdown would not significantly impact jobs at Toledo refineries. There is absolutely no evidence that a shutdown would impair operations at Detroit Metro Airport.

Sources:

Gov. Whitmer’s Michigan Carbon-Neutral Plan a Step Forward, But Bigger Steps Needed Now

Great Lakes from Space

A new climate action plan released by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is attracting both praise and calls for faster action from environmental organizations.

Announced September 23, the Governor’s plan calls for a carbon-neutral Michigan economy by the year 2050. That makes Michigan the ninth state to commit to a carbon-neutral economy.

“The science on this issue is clear,” Whitmer said. “Climate change is already affecting our state. Extreme weather has led to some of the wettest years in our state’s history, rising lake levels that erode our shorelines, and immense damage to public, private, and agricultural infrastructure. Rising temperatures and air quality changes worsen health problems and heighten COVID-19 co-morbidities. We cannot afford to wait to take action.”

But the urgency expressed by Whitmer is not fully embraced by her plan, which aims for carbon neutrality three decades from today, advocates say.

Jamesa Johnson-Greer, Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition’s climate justice director, called the timeline “conservative” and noted that Consumers Energy and DTE Energy, the state’s two largest utilities, have already committed to carbon neutrality by 2040 and 2050, respectively.

“We’re at a point in the crisis where we know we have the next 10 years to act to stave off the greatest impacts of the climate crisis … so we need to act now.”

According to her executive order, Whitmer’s plan also calls for:

  • An interim goal of a 28-percent reduction below 1990 levels in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.
  • An Energy Transition Impact Project to assist communities in maintaining critical services and ensuring high quality employment for workers while moving toward a more sustainable future when faced with the closure of energy facilities.
  • A new Council on Climate Solutions to recommend opportunities for emissions-reduction strategies while focusing on targeted solutions for communities disproportionately being affected by the climate crisis. The Council and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) will work with EGLE’s Office of Environmental Justice Public Advocate to ensure fairness for and representation from underserved communities.

“We applaud Governor Whitmer’s commitment to a carbon-neutral economy by 2050,” said FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood. “By setting this urgently needed goal, Michiganders can tap into their innovative know-how to protect this peninsula we call home. The health of these waters hangs in the balance and depends on our affirmative commitment to addressing the climate crisis head-on.”

Despite limitations, the plan is a big step forward for a state government that failed to take significant action on the climate crisis under the previous governor, said Kate Madigan, director of the Michigan Climate Action Network.

“When we started the climate network five years ago,” Madigan said, “few leaders in our state were even talking about climate change and the rapid and equitable transition off fossil fuels needed to avoid worsening impacts. This silence and inaction were the results of the well-funded campaigns by the fossil fuel industry to create doubt and pressure elected officials to deny the climate crisis. Sadly, those campaigns delayed action for far too long. The action by Governor Whitmer shows that things have changed.”

State of the Great Lakes?

Dave Dempsey, Senior Advisor

By Dave Dempsey

This month, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) issued the 2019 State of the Great Lakes Report.

While legitimately showcasing much good news about policies and programs benefiting the Lakes, the report joined the ranks of many that don’t say enough about the conditions of the Great Lakes themselves.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. When the Michigan Legislature and Governor in 1985 enacted a statutory requirement for an annual report on the state of the Great Lakes, they envisioned a science-based report card on the health of the waters and related resources of the Lakes themselves. Which pollutants are increasing and which are decreasing in Great Lakes waters? What are quantitative trends in beach closings and key populations of critical aquatic species? What  indicators of climate change are manifesting in the Great Lakes? 

But almost since the first day, and especially under former Gov. John Engler, Michigan’s Great Lakes report has amounted mostly to agency self-praise for a job well done.

Likewise, other Great Lakes institutions have had struggles coming up with objective indicators measuring the health of the Lakes, although they are now making some progress. Under the US-Canada Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement of 2012, the two nations are required to issue a State of the Great Lakes report every three years. Released in May, the most recent report finds:

“Overall, the Great Lakes are assessed as Fair and Unchanging. While progress to restore and protect the Great Lakes has occurred, including the reduction of toxic chemicals, the indicator assessments demonstrate that there are still significant challenges, including the impacts of nutrients and invasive species. The continued actions of many groups and individuals are contributing to the improvements in the Great Lakes.”

The assessment may be overly generous — but even if accurate, its “fair and unchanging” verdict translates at best to a C+. That is far from great effort on behalf of the Great Lakes. We can and must do better.

Back to the new Michigan report: It doesn’t attempt such a report card, but does deliver interesting news on drinking water rules for PFAS and other contaminants, high Great Lakes water levels, Asian carp and research on harmful algae blooms. As a “State of Great Lakes Programs” report, it offers some food for thought — but it doesn’t tell you scientifically where the health of the Lakes is headed.

One highlight of the EGLE report, however, is a discussion of the public trust doctrine, FLOW’s central organizing principle. The report observes:

“The basic premise behind much of the Great Lakes legal protection is the idea that surface water itself is not property of the state, but a public good. Over the years, a number of court cases have firmly established this legal principle, known as the ‘public trust doctrine.’ The public trust doctrine means protecting public water resources for the use and enjoyment of all. Under the public trust doctrine, the state acts as a trustee who is empowered to protect the water.”

We applaud EGLE’s recognition of its trustee role, and encourage Gov, Gretchen Whitmer and EGLE Director Liesl Clark to rely on the public trust doctrine to guide them as they consider their decisions on Line 5, Nestlé water withdrawals, and other weighty matters.

FLOW to U.P. Energy Task Force: Act Fast to Protect Residents, End Reliance on Risky ‘Line 5’ Oil Pipeline

Photo by Kathryn DePauw for FLOW.


To alleviate the rising threat to the safety and economic security of Upper Peninsula residents, a state energy task force at its April 13 online public meeting should act with urgency to adopt, prioritize, and schedule the implementation of the 14 recommendations in its draft propane supply report.  Swift action is needed in order to end reliance on the risky Line 5 pipeline, dismantle the Canadian energy monopoly over the Upper Peninsula, and secure more diverse and renewable energy choices, said FLOW (For Love of Water) in formal public comments sent Monday to state officials.

FLOW’s letter to the U.P. Energy Task Force, which Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer created last June, comes at the deadline for the public to review the March 20 draft report on propane supply options. FLOW is urging the task force to act immediately on both short-term and long-term recommendations for the State of Michigan to resolve the clear and present danger to public health and the Great Lakes posed by Line 5.

FLOW finds that the most reliable, secure, lowest-cost, and lowest-risk alternative for propane supplies in the short term is a combination of the recommendations on rail and truck, plus an increase in propane inventory in the Upper Peninsula. Highest priority should be given to recommendations with a full range of diverse alternatives that are not dependent on the decaying Enbridge Line 5 pipeline, which crosses the Upper Peninsula and the open waters of the Straits of Mackinac.

FLOW also urges the task force to evaluate all of the environmental and health impacts and risks that each alternative poses to air, water, and land resources. The Great Lakes and other natural resources remain at grave risk with the continued daily operation of Line 5, and impacts to these public trust resources must be fully considered in the final propane report.

FLOW also calls on the task force to expedite its work and complete its renewable energy plan in 2020, well ahead of its March 2021 deadline for reporting to the governor. Michigan and the Great Lakes cannot wait another year for more studies as Line 5 continues to age.

“The U.P. Energy Task Force draft propane report concludes that both short-term and longer-term feasible and prudent alternatives exist to decommission Line 5 and to secure reliable, safe, and affordable energy to U.P. residents based on adjustments within the energy system,” said Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director of FLOW, the Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City.  “Given the current propane monopoly and lack of backup alternatives to Line 5, U.P. residents are exposed to substantial financial and safety risks. Moreover, Line 5 also poses unprecedented and devastating economic, environmental, and public health risks to the Great Lakes.”

With the help of the task force to prioritize recommendations and advance much needed energy planning, the State of Michigan can work as expeditiously as possible to decommission the aging Line 5 pipeline and transition to safe and affordable energy alternatives for U.P. residents.

Background

The U.P. Energy Task Force, formed by Gov. Whitmer’s Executive Order 2019-14, is charged with “considering all available information and make recommendations that ensure the U.P.’s energy needs are met in a manner that is reliable, affordable, and environmentally sound.” The Order also directs the Task Force to examine “alternative means to supply the energy sources currently used by U.P. residents, and alternatives to those energy sources.”

The precipitating force behind this urgent energy analysis is Enbridge’s increasingly risky 67-year-old Line 5 pipeline, which has ruptured or otherwise leaked at least 33 times since 1968, and the failure to date to prioritize and assure a backup alternative for delivering propane in the Upper Peninsula. Line 5 is operating far past its life expectancy and continues to threaten the Great Lakes, public health, and drinking water supplies for thousands of Michiganders. With no backup plan for delivering alternative propane supplies to the U.P. in the event of a catastrophic Line 5 pipeline rupture, including in the dead of winter, the outdated pipeline also endangers the safety, security, and energy independence of Upper Peninsula residents who rely on propane to heat their homes.

Wanted: a Government That Acts Like an Adult and Cleans Up its Mess

Gov. Whitmer’s State of the Union response: standing up for the Great Lakes and environment

The Trump Administration has attacked longstanding U.S. environmental policy head-on. The unprecedented rollback of environmental protections during the past three years puts Michigan, the Great Lakes, and the entire nation at great risk.

Case in point: the recent rollback of federal clean water protections threatens water quality in wetlands and streams across the mitten state. “Clean water is a basic need,” Laura Rubin, director of the Healing Our Waters—Great Lakes Coalition told Bridge Magazine in response. “I am astounded that you would even think about rolling back regulations when you still have people in Michigan that don’t have clean drinking water. We need more—not less—protection for clean water.”

The National Environmental Policy Act—nicknamed the “Magna Carta” of American environmental law—which former President Richard Nixon signed into law on Jan. 1, 1970, is also under threat. This CNN report chronicles Trump’s attacks on the environment.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer was given a prime opportunity to provide a bold, optimistic alternative to Trump’s war on the environment when she delivered the Democratic Party’s response to the State of the Union address on Tuesday night, Feb. 4.

She highlighted the efforts of young people who are standing up for the environment and other progressive policies:

Democracy takes action and that’s why I’m so inspired by young people. They respond to mass shootings, demanding policies that make schools safer. They react to a world that’s literally on fire with fire in their bellies to push leaders to finally take action on climate change. They take on a road filled with potholes with a shovel and some dirt. It’s what gives me great confidence in our future and it’s why sometimes it feels like they’re the adults in the room. But it shouldn’t have to be that way. It’s not their mess to clean up, it’s ours.”

As the leader of our Great Lakes state, and the protector of our lakes, streams, air, and groundwater, FLOW applauds Whitmer for standing up for the 1.5 million workers whose jobs are directly tied to the health of the Great Lakes. We encourage Whitmer to call for a Great Lakes platform to protect our drinking water, public health, jobs and quality of life.

During her State of the State address last week, Whitmer initially alluded to critical issues including drinking water, climate change, PFAS, record-high Great Lakes water levels, and “their impact on tourism, agriculture and infrastructure”. She suggested that she will make big announcements in the weeks ahead.

FLOW would like to hear her talk more about how state and federal government can protect water and the environment.

Surveys show overwhelming bipartisan support for the protection of air, water, public lands, and natural resources—an essential function of government. 

FLOW’s environmental economics work over the past year makes the economic, legal and moral case for government’s role in protecting the environment and aims to reset the public narrative on environmental policy. Our “Resetting Expectations” briefs by former FLOW board chair Skip Pruss trace the history of environmental regulation since 1970, and illustrate how environmental policies protect individuals, families, and communities while fostering innovation and economic gains.

The State of Governor Whitmer’s State of the State Message

By Dave Dempsey

Early in each new year, the Governor of Michigan sets forth a policy agenda for the Legislature and the state as a whole. This year, Governor Gretchen Whitmer delivers her State of the State message on the evening of Wednesday, January 29.

Whitmer will inevitably tackle roads, jobs, infrastructure, education, and Michigan’s economic prosperity, but the environment must be a key part of her speech.

Whitmer would do well to emulate her predecessor Gov. William Milliken, who 50 years ago gave a 1970 State of the State speech that fought environmental degradation and deregulation and called for dramatic changes in state policy to better protect the air, water, land, fish and wildlife. The 1970 legislative session resulted in the Michigan Environmental Protection Act, the Natural Rivers Act, the Great Lakes Shorelands Act and more.

Environmental, natural resources and public health policies are a critical part of Michigan’s policy needs. Governor Whitmer has an important opportunity to move the state forward by outlining bold steps for the state to take to assure safe and affordable drinking water for all; assure our water remains public and is not captured by private commercial interests for profit; protect rivers, lakes and habitat; and promote solutions to the climate crisis.

(Whitmer will appear on an even bigger stage on Tuesday, February 4, when she delivers a Democratic response to the State of the Union address.)

Here are issues for Michigan citizens to listen for that FLOW urges the Governor to cover in her State of the State message:

FLOW’s State of the State Agenda

FLOW believes the Governor should:

Bring Line 5 Pipelines Under the Rule of Law:

• Direct that Enbridge obtain authorization under the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act (GLSLA) and public trust law for the new 2018 tunnel easement and long-term private control of the Straits of Mackinac for the tunnel and existing Line 5.

• Nullify, revoke, and/or terminate the 1953 easement to use the lakebed at the Straits under which Enbridge operates Line 5 for violation of public trust law, and the rule of law under the GLSLA.

Address the Climate Crisis:

• Issue an executive order setting state renewable energy and decarbonization targets and methods to achieve them.

• Direct a study of the future impacts of climate change to the Great Lakes, identifying measures to promote adaptation and resiliency.

Provide Safe, Clean, Affordable Water for All:

• Support legislation and policy that declares and protects the paramount public interest in the State’s water and the individual’s right and access to safe, clean, affordable water and prevents water shutoffs.

Stop Septic System Pollution:

• Call for the Legislature to enact a statewide sanitary code to protect the paramount public interest in groundwater and surface waters, setting environmentally protective standards for inspection and maintenance of on-site sewage (septic) systems.

Prevent Great Lakes Exports:

• As Chair of the Great Lakes Compact Council, call for revision of Compact procedures to prevent unlawful diversions and exports, and establish a framework to address impacts on waters of the Basin from the effects of climate change.

Invest in the Protection of State’s Water and Water Infrastructure:

• Support a funding mechanism or mechanisms, including conservation, efficiency, and innovative user fees, to close the huge gap between water infrastructure needs and available funds, and coordinate the funding mechanism with the right to water, health, and affordability.

Make Polluters Pay:

• Hold polluters rather than taxpayers accountable for contamination cleanup costs, and restore standards that require cleanup rather than containment of toxic pollutants from the waters of our State.

Dave Dempsey, FLOW’s senior policy adviser, wrote the award-winning biography William G. Milliken: Michigan’s Passionate Moderate (University of Michigan Press, 2006).

Michigan DNR Takes Steps to Hold Enbridge Accountable

Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Director Daniel Eichinger today set a 30-day deadline for Enbridge to submit key information regarding its ongoing violations of the state-granted easement conditionally allowing the Canadian company’s 66-year-old Line 5 oil pipelines to occupy the Straits of Mackinac.

Eichinger’s letter to Enbridge, which includes 20 questions to be answered by Feb. 12, is an appropriate step to conclude the DNR’s review ordered by Governor Whitmer last June, according to FLOW, the Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City.

“It’s a welcome sign that Director Eichinger and his staff appear to be wrapping up their Line 5 investigation by asking for all other information and documentation that Enbridge has in its possession or control,” said Kelly Thayer, Deputy Director of FLOW (For Love of Water). “At the conclusion of this process, these serious and continuing violations of the easement by Enbridge should trigger the state to shut down the dangerous dual Line 5 oil pipelines in the Great Lakes before it’s too late.”

FLOW commended the DNR for taking this step to restore the rule of law on Line 5, the oil pipelines running through the open waters of the Straits of Mackinac, which researchers have called the worst possible place for a Great Lakes oil spill due to the powerful underwater currents, strong waves, seasonal ice cover, and extreme difficulty in responding to an oil pipeline failure.

“It’s clear that Line 5’s original design in the Straits is failing, as the powerful currents scour the public bottomlands and undermine the pipelines placed there in 1953,” said Jim Olson, FLOW’s President and legal advisor. “Enbridge’s continuing addition of more than 200 pipeline supports constitutes a risky redesign that never has been evaluated or authorized under the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act and public trust law.”

The State of Michigan already has documented evidence on Line 5 of anchor strikes, exposed metal surfaces, and deep scouring of bottomlands that undermine the pipelines and even bend some of the newly installed supports. There also has been evidence of bending of Line 5 beyond curvature limits, Enbridge has failed to provide proof of liability insurance and other financial assurances, and missing protective pipeline coating and delamination.

FLOW filed formal comments in mid-November 2019 to assist the State of Michigan’s Line 5 review, citing new and ongoing legal violations by Enbridge and rising risk to the Great Lakes, jobs, and drinking water. In those Nov. 13 comments, FLOW called on the state to increase and strictly enforce the requirement for comprehensive oil spill insurance and terminate the 1953 easement that conditionally allows Line 5 to occupy the Straits of Mackinac, triggering the orderly shutdown of the dual oil pipelines as soon as practicable after securing alternative sources for residential propane in the Upper Peninsula (which a state task force is studying).

FLOW’s request followed recent revelations that Enbridge and its subsidiaries lack adequate liability insurance for a potentially catastrophic oil spill from the Canadian company’s decaying dual pipelines snaking across the public bottomlands, where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron. The new evidence further supports FLOW’s long-standing contention that Enbridge is operating Line 5 illegally while the risk rises to the Great Lakes, jobs, and the drinking water supply for half of Michiganders.

Until Enbridge has applied for and obtains authorization under the rule of law or Line 5 is shut down, FLOW urges the state to impose immediate emergency measures that reduce the flow of oil in Line 5 to its original limit of 300,000 barrels per day (1 barrel = 42 U.S. gallons of oil). Enbridge currently pumps 540,000 barrels a day through Line 5 in the Straits, which is 80% more than the original design approved by the State of Michigan.

Pending such authorization or shutdown, state officials also should implement more stringent requirements for a mandatory emergency shutdown, including when there is a wave height of 3.3 feet or more in the Straits or winds in excess of 18 miles per hour, conditions that render oil spill response equipment ineffective. Based on the level of risk from Line 5 to public waters, the state also should require Enbridge and its subsidiaries to secure adequate insurance, bond, surety and/or secured assets in the total amount of at least $5 billion, based on a study commissioned by FLOW that found that a Line 5 oil spill could deliver a multibillion-dollar blow to natural resource and Michigan’s economy.

Gov. Whitmer, Michigan Legislature Agree on Funding for Clean Water

By Dave Dempsey

Although budget talks between Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the state Legislature are strained at best — as the two sides appear deadlocked over road funding — it does appear her request for significant one-time funding for clean water for the fiscal year 2020 starting October 1 will survive the process, with some changes made to fit legislative priorities. On Tuesday, Sept. 24, the Legislature approved the water money and will send the bill to Whitmer’s desk for signature within a few days.

The action comes after a long delay in consideration of the Governor’s proposal. “Communities across Michigan are grappling with drinking water contamination, like toxic PFAS chemicals and lead from old pipes, yet discussion about it has been noticeably absent in Lansing as they work to pass a budget. Clean, safe drinking water is not a partisan issue and should be a top priority, not an afterthought,” said Lisa Wozniak, executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters (LCV), earlier this month.

A House-Senate conference committee had sent a proposed appropriation for the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) to the full State House and Senate. FLOW’s allies in Lansing at the Michigan Environmental Council and Michigan League of Conservation voters say the conference bill contains $120 million in one-time money for drinking water protection, including:

  • $40 million for PFAS and emerging contaminants
  • $35 million for drinking water revolving loan fund community debt forgiveness
  • $30 million for lead and copper rule implementation
  • $7.5 million for water affordability planning
  • $7.5 million for private water well testing

UPDATE:  Governor Whitmer vetoed $15 million intended for dealing with PFAS at municipal airports on the grounds that a broader use of the funding for PFAS us needed.

    Also included:
    • $1.9 million and the equivalent of 10 staff positions for a drinking water compliance unit to provide technical assistance to communities on the lead and copper rule. 
    • $5 million as a state match for federal drinking water revolving loan fund dollars.
    • $307,000 additional funding for contaminated site investigations.
    An item of concern, added by legislators, is an earmark of $150,000 for the Environmental Rules Review Committee to contract with consultants. This committee was created by the Legislature and signed into law by former Governor Snyder to impede environmental rulemaking.
    UPDATE:  Governor Whitmer vetoed the $150,000 in funding for this committee.
    The Governor also requested $60 million for school hydration stations to protect children from drinking lead-contaminated water, but so far the Legislature has not included the money in the fiscal year 2020 budget.
    Dave Dempsey is the Senior Policy Advisor at FLOW.

    Digging a Hole for Future Generations

    By 4-3 Vote, Grand Traverse County Commissioners Support ‘Line 5’ Oil Tunnel in the Great Lakes

    By Kelly Thayer

    After a brief rally outside with many participants wearing black t-shirts saying, “No Line 5 Oil Tunnel,” dozens of people this morning (August 21) overflowed the meeting room and lobby of the Grand Traverse County Board of Commissioners in Traverse City. In all, 54 residents spoke out for the next 2 ½ hours against a resolution supporting a proposed tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac. Only two people — one an owner of a local gas and oil company — spoke for the oil tunnel.

    And then the county commissioners had the final say, with the majority ultimately disagreeing with their own constituents and voting 4-3 for the resolution. (Click here to view a video of the meeting.)

    The outcome was disheartening to many in attendance who spoke of Enbridge’s spill-laden track record and the risk to the Great Lakes, drinking water, the economy, tribal rights, the climate, and a way of life that could be denied to future generations.

    “It’s not a good pipeline. And for all the reasons already said, it needs to be shut down. And so promoting the life of it isn’t exactly helpful for my generation, or generations that come after me – or your generation! It’s not good for our water, it’s not good for our state, it’s not good for the world! So just consider that, please,” said Kellyn Walker Hundley, a teenager who attended and also is the daughter of Commissioner Bryce Hundley, an opponent of the resolution.

    The pro-tunnel result delivered a boost for Enbridge, which didn’t comment at the meeting, but instead is letting its money do the talking by spending heavily on public relations and lobbying to gain support among counties statewide for their proposed oil tunnel. Only three other counties — all in the Upper Peninsula — to date have approved the model resolution that bears close resemblance to talking points that Line 5-owner Enbridge has circulated for months.

    The Canadian energy transport giant’s goal is to build political backing for a tunnel as a replacement for its decaying oil pipelines crossing the open waters and bottomlands of the Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron. Enbridge thought it had secured the oil tunnel in late 2018, when Michigan lawmakers rushed through a bill in lame-duck session. In March, however, newly elected Attorney General Dana Nessel found that the oil tunnel legislation to be unconstitutional.

    Enbridge sued the State of Michigan in early June to resuscitate the law, and the multibillion-dollar company also is working with the Republican majority, as well as some Democrats, in the state House and Senate to introduce a new oil tunnel bill as early as this month to overcome the flaws flagged by Nessel. Nessel in late June also sued Enbridge to revoke the 1953 easement that conditionally authorizes Enbridge to pump oil through the twin pipelines in the Straits.

    FLOW and its team of lawyers, scientists, engineers, and an international risk expert since 2013 have studied the increasing threat from Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac and, more recently, the proposed Line 5 oil tunnel.

    FLOW Deputy Director Kelly Thayer read a statement calling on the county board to reject the oil tunnel resolution, which claims an admirable safety record that is at odds with the reality that Line 5 has leaked at least 33 times, spilling a total of 1.1 million gallons of oil in Michigan and Wisconsin.

    “It is vital to understand that with a ‘yes’ vote today for the oil tunnel resolution, you would effectively be interfering in ongoing litigation between Enbridge and the State of Michigan,” Thayer said. “Why entangle Grand Traverse County in these legal fights on Enbridge’s behalf?”

    Enbridge wants the right to bore a tunnel in the next 5-10 years for Line 5 through State of Michigan public trust bottomlands under the Straits. Enbridge also wants to keep pumping up to 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids a day through the decaying, 66-year-old Line 5 pipelines in the Straits during tunnel feasibility studies and construction.

    An oil tunnel also would fail to address the risk posed by Line 5’s more than 400 stream and river crossings in the Upper and Lower Peninsulas and would conflict with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s plans to combat ongoing climate change.

    FLOW and other Great Lakes advocates have long called for shutting down Line 5, which primarily serves Canada’s, not Michigan’s, needs and threatens the Great Lakes. FLOW research shows that viable alternatives exist to deliver propane to Michigan and oil to regional refineries, and Gov. Whitmer has formed an Upper Peninsula Energy Task Force to identify energy supply options. The system can adjust with smart planning.

    You can learn more by visiting FLOW’s Line 5 program page and by downloading a copy of FLOW’s latest:

    Kelly Thayer is FLOW’s Deputy Director