Childhood friends William Wright and Chris Yahanda wanted to do their part to protect the Great Lakes and, in particular, to urge Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer to shut down the Line 5 oil pipelines under the Straits of Mackinac by terminating the easement of Canadian pipeline company Enbridge.
“We thought, maybe we can tell a story through a paddle journey in the places that we love and show how we can protect them,” said Wright. “The Line 5 issue spurred our desire to take this journey.”
Watch our interview with William Wright and Chris Yahanda and footage of their journey thus far.
Wright and Yahanda are currently paddling 425 miles over approximately 45 days, from the Straits of Mackinac, down the west coast of Michigan, up the Grand River through Grand Rapids, and ultimately to the State Capitol in Lansing. Their friend Davis Huber, a filmmaker based in Los Angeles, is capturing their journey and plans to make a film about their effort.
On June 9 the paddleboarders left Mackinac Island where the Michigan governor has a guest mansion, and headed for the Mackinac Bridge, itself. Sometime in late July or early August, they will bookend their trip when they arrive at the governor’s office.
“We go in support of her effort to shut down Line 5,” said Wright.
For Yahanda, paddling under the Mackinac Bridge, where Lakes Michigan and Huron meet, inspired awe and respect for nature.
“I’ve been over the Bridge many times, but to see it from underneath, to be so close to the water and really see the magnitude of the convergence of that water, it’s different,” he said. “You can definitely feel the energy of the transfer of water. Even the air feels different. How quickly it could turn on a dime.
“We couldn’t help but think of how important that place is to protect and how disastrous it would be if millions of gallons of oil were poured into it.”
Paddling southwest toward the Leelanau Peninsula, Wright and Yahanda encountered days with headwinds that prevented them from making much distance. But they also experienced calm days that allowed them to paddle for 20 miles or more at a time. On June 17 they paddled 28 miles, from Norwood, just south of Charlevoix, to Leland—their best day yet.
“We learned pretty quickly about the power of the water,” said Wright. “There have been times when we came out of a bay and had the wind direction change on a dime. The weather out there can really impact us on paddleboards since we’re small and catch wind pretty easily. We have learned firsthand the respect we need to have for Mother Nature.”
On June 20 they paddled down the Leelanau coast, past the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore’s majestic dunes, and spent the night at Point Betsie in Benzie County.
“We had a perfectly clear day with low wind while seeing the bluff and the sand come straight to the water,” said Wright. “That coastline is so beautiful, from Pyramid Point and down the coast of Sleeping Bear.”
They are currently camping in Ludington State Park.
“We are stoked to partner with FLOW. From the very beginning of our project, Liz Kirkwood, FLOW’s executive director, has helped us develop a deeper understanding of the water issues plaguing the Great Lakes,” said Wright.
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.
By Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director, and Mike Vickery, Board Chair
Being in, on, or near water brings us into balance, restores clarity, and grounds us in understanding what matters most. Water is life. These elemental connections to water and nature were profoundly important to all of us in the tumultuous year of 2020, as the coronavirus upended our lives and economy.
In reflection, as we recount in our Annual Report released today, November 2020 marked an extraordinary milestone for the Great Lakes—and for FLOW. After seven long years of advancing public trust law as the legal basis to shut down Line 5, FLOW watched Governor Gretchen Whitmer and DNR Director Daniel Eichinger assert public trust law as the cornerstone of the state’s action to advance critical legal action to protect the Great Lakes from a catastrophic oil spill.
Equitable and affordable access to clean drinking water remained at the forefront of our work in 2020 as we partnered with frontline Detroit and Flint groups to successfully persuade Governor Whitmer, and then the legislature, to extend a moratorium on water shutoffs through March 2021. We also partnered to form Water for All of Michigan to evaluate equitable and just financing and funding strategies to assure safe, affordable water for all communities. FLOW’s model legislation, Public Water, Public Justice, is a key part of this work.
FLOW also worked to spotlight and protect the Sixth Great Lake, Michigan’s groundwater, unveiling a groundwater story map in March and a June webinar to highlight the implications of a preliminary state decision approving Nestlé’s permit to increase withdrawals for commercial bottled water. And we chronicled a baffling decision in November by the State of Michigan to dismiss the citizen-led contested case challenging the Nestlé permit. In a year dominated by a global pandemic, a reckoning with racial injustice, record-high Great Lakes water levels, an unprecedented national election, and profound challenges to our most important institutions, FLOW stood firm as a fair witness to, and advocate for, the power and value of the public trust in moving forward. Working alongside our partners, allies, supporters, and friends, FLOW planted new seeds from which will grow a more just, diverse, inclusive, equitable, prosperous and resilient water future for generations to come.
Your support and passion for the Great Lakes, groundwater, and drinking water for all inspires us and helps drive us forward. Thank you for our shared successes. We hope you enjoy reading about the fresh waters and public trust rights that we have protected together in our Annual Report 2020.
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.
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.
Today’s announcement by Governor Whitmer and Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Director Eichinger that the State of Michigan, under the public trust doctrine, is revoking and terminating the 1953 easement allowing Enbridge to operate dual pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac—due to repeated violations of the easement—represents a clear victory for the Great Lakes and the citizens and tribes of Michigan, said FLOW executive director Liz Kirkwood today.
“As public trustees of our waters, the State of Michigan is affirmatively upholding the rule of law and protecting the public’s treasured Great Lakes from the clear and present danger of an oil spill catastrophe from Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline.”
“This is an historic day of state leadership by the Whitmer administration brought about by many years of dedicated action by environmental groups, Indian tribes, communities, businesses, faith communities, families, and individuals. People of diverse backgrounds have come together to work tirelessly on a common purpose—protecting the Great Lakes, drinking water, fishing rights, the economy, coastal communities, and a way of life from the most dangerous oil pipeline in America.
“While this is a moment to celebrate, we must remain vigilant until the oil stops flowing for good in May 2021 because Line 5 remains exposed to uncontrollable and powerful forces, including exceptionally strong currents, lakebed scouring, new anchor and cable strikes, and corrosion. These forces dramatically increase the risk of this elevated, outdated pipeline collapsing and causing the unthinkable: a catastrophic oil spill in the heart of the Great Lakes.”
Photo: Jim Olson, FLOW’s Founder and Legal Advisor, makes arguments in a Sept. 30, 2020, court hearing conducted online. The hearing considered motions made by Enbridge regarding the proper scope of the Michigan Public Service Commission’s review of the proposed Line 5 oil tunnel.
There was good news and bad news in a state administrative law judge’s October 23 ruling that addressed legal arguments over what the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) can and cannot evaluate when deciding whether to permit the siting of Enbridge’s proposed oil pipeline tunnel project under the Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron.
First, the good news: Judge Dennis Mack rejected Enbridge’s attempt to escape accountability by restricting the MPSC’s review to the impacts associated with the mere installation of a new Line 5 oil pipeline into the tunnel after it is built. The MPSC must consider the impacts from construction to nearby surface waters, wetlands, and the overall safety of the location and construction of both the pipeline and the tunnel that would house it.
Now, the bad news: The judge granted the Canadian energy pipeline giant’s bid to exclude evidence from the MPSC’s review that the oil pipeline tunnel would worsen the climate crisis and cause other environmental harm. The judge also excluded from the MPSC’s consideration of the public necessity to transport up to 8 billion gallons of oil a year for 99 more years in an era of falling demand for crude oil and an economy rapidly shifting to renewable energy.
Absent a successful appeal by FLOW or other intervening parties in the case to the three-member MPSC to overturn the ruling, as Julius Caesar said when he crossed the Rubicon, Alea iacta est—the die is cast.
Clockwise from top-left: Dennis Mack (Administrative Law Judge); Spencer Sattler representing MPSC staff; Assistant Attorney General Robert Reichel representing the Michigan Department of the Attorney General; Chris Bzdok, representing Michigan Environmental Council, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians; Christopher Clark representing Bay Mills Indian Community; Margrethe Kearney, ELPC attorney representing the Environmental Law & Policy Center and Michigan Climate Action Network.
September Court-Zoom Drama
Judge Mack’s ruling on the scope of evidence the MPSC can consider followed sharply divided legal arguments on September 23 in a Zoom call from lawyers for Enbridge, the Michigan Public Service Commission, the Michigan Department of Attorney General, Native American tribes, FLOW, and several other public interest organizations. The judge heard a wide range of legal arguments over the scope of the MPSC’s review of impacts, necessity, and alternatives to Enbridge’s proposed utility tunnel and tunnel pipeline. The tunnel would extend the life of Line 5 and facilitate the transport of as much in total as 800 billion gallons of crude oil through Michigan and under the bottomlands and waters of the Straits of Mackinac for almost another century. Nothing less than the authority of the MPSC to protect the people of Michigan, the environment, the climate, and the future public interest of the citizens of Michigan is at stake, according to arguments made orally and also filed by FLOW and others.
Lawyers for Enbridge, in court and in their filing, pushed to strip the MPSC of its authority to review anything but a simple replacement of old plumbing with new plumbing for Line 5 in the Straits. In short, Enbridge argued that the MPSC could not evaluate any impacts from the massive tunnel, the need for the tunnel in a rapidly declining market for crude oil, or the billions of dollars in damage and cost from rising Great Lakes water levels, flooding, and collapsing of infrastructure in Michigan tied directly to the burning of fossil fuels and climate change. Rather, lawyers for Enbridge argued the MPSC could look at only the physical impacts of removing old dual pipelines and replacing them with a new pipeline put in a new tunnel in the bedrock and mixture of rock and soil under the lakebed.
In contrast, the lawyers for intervening parties in the case—including on behalf of Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, Bay Mills Indian Community, Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, FLOW, Environmental Law and Policy Center, Michigan Climate Action Network, Michigan Environmental Council, National Wildlife Federation, Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council—argued for a broader scope of review concomitant with the magnitude of the proposed 99-year $500 million+ tunnel and new pipeline. They argued that the tunnel and pipeline are inseparable, and that it is a single project that would commit the state of Michigan to the environmental and public health impacts of the transport of up to 8 billion barrels of crude oil a year, carried from Canada under the Straits of Mackinac and back into Canada to Sarnia’s Chemical Valley cluster of refineries and chemical plants.
Public Need, Public Interest, Public Trust, and a Private Tunnel
Lawyers challenging Enbridge pointed out that Act 16, the law that defines the MPSC’s scope of review, imposes three standards and findings before a utility project like this can be legally approved: (1) the demonstration of need to realize a true public need; (2) safety and consistency with the public interest; and (3) the project is a reasonable alternative. Lawyers for FLOW and the other groups and tribes also pointed out that the MPSC has a duty under the Michigan Environmental Protection Act (MEPA) to prevent and minimize likely impairment to the air, water, and natural resources, and the public trust in those resources, and to find there is no feasible and prudent alternative to the project.
The question of a public need for the project faces the reality of rapidly falling demand for oil and a sea change in investment toward renewable energy and a conservation economy. There are alternatives to continuing to risk the Great Lakes and our water-based economy, including the obvious use of excess capacity in Enbridge’s greatly expanded oil pipeline across southern Michigan to Sarnia that replaced the corporation’s aged line that ruptured and caused the devastating 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill disaster. Lawyers for the tribes made clear that the environmental impacts of the proposed oil tunnel pose serious threats to tribal fishing and sovereignty over their treaty waters. Feasible and prudent alternatives clearly exist that are more consistent with the public interest of the citizens of Michigan, and the Michigan Supreme Court has made it abundantly clear that the state has a duty to comprehensively consider the likely effects and range of alternatives in deciding the necessity of a project like the century-spanning tunnel and pipeline. [Highway Comm’n v Vanderkloot, 392 Mich 159 (1974)]
The public interest in this proceeding includes our environment, protected by the MEPA, but it is also defined by what the public trust in the air, water, and environment of our Great Lakes—an ancient, irrevocable legal principle that protects the overarching rights of the public to enjoy the Great Lakes for navigation, fishing, drinking water, sustenance, boating, and swimming. [Obrecht v National Gypsum Co., 361 Mich 399 (1960); Illinois Central R Rd v Illinois, 146 U.S. 387 (1892)] This public trust imposes an affirmative and perpetual duty on governmental agencies, like the MPSC, to protect these legal-beneficiary rights of citizens.
Enbridge’s Narrow View of Public Oversight
Enbridge tried unsuccessfully to avoid or narrow the MPSC’s review of the crude oil tunnel project last April, when it asked the MPSC to rule that the tunnel proposed today was covered by its ruling existing 67 years ago on the existing Line 5 pipelines in the Straits. Agreeing with FLOW and others, the MPSC rejected the attempt, and issued an order on June 30, as FLOW chronicled, that concluded, “the Commission finds that the Enbridge’s Line 5 Project involves significant factual and policy questions and complex legal determinations that can only be resolved with the benefit of discovery, comprehensive testimony and evidence, and a well-developed record.” [MPSC Order, June 30, 2020, Case No. U-20763]
The October 23 ruling by Administrative Law Judge Mack rejected Enbridge’s argument that the authority of the MPSC was restricted to replacing the old dual lines with a new single line in a tunnel. The judge ruled definitively, as argued by the organizations and tribes, that the tunnel is inseparable from the pipeline, and the impacts and operation of both must be considered. On the other hand, the judge interpreted more narrowly the MPSC’s June 30 order that signaled a desire for a “well-developed record” on all of the complex issues involved in the oil pipeline tunnel project. The judge’s decision rejected arguments by the Attorney General, organizations, and tribes that the MPSC must undertake a comprehensive evaluation of the need, safety, impacts, and alternatives, including the inherent commitment by the state to permit the transport of nearly a trillion gallons of oil over the next 99 years, the lack of need for this oil, and the devastating effects of climate change.
Context is King: Construction Project or Climate Change Nightmare?
All of the parties in the case will be evaluating the effect of the judge’s decision to allow consideration of the impacts of the tunnel and pipeline construction, but exclude consideration of overall necessity, impacts, and alternatives of the century-spanning tunnel and pipeline project. Any party has a right to request a full review and decision by the three members of the MPSC itself. The parties, conversely, could choose to proceed in a hearing set for February 12, 2021, with testimony and evidence limited by the judge to just the impacts of building the tunnel and moving the pipeline. If the latter course is taken, then indeed Michigan will have crossed the Rubicon on the climate crisis and protecting the Great Lakes and ourselves from the worst of it.
On Monday, October 19, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) will conclude its public comment period on pending state permits for the expected wetland and wastewater impacts, and alternatives to constructing and operating Enbridge’s proposed, roughly four mile-long oil tunnel under the Great Lakes. The proposed tunnel, at roughly 20-feet in diameter, would house a new Line 5 pipeline to continue for another 99 years carrying up to 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids a day through the public trust bottomlands of the Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron.
It’s important for the members of the public—including individuals, families, business owners, community leaders, and others—to submit comments. Many people and groups, including FLOW and Oil & Water Don’t Mix, already have expressed deep concerns about the Canadian pipeline company’s tunnel proposal and its lack of necessity, and risks to the Great Lakes, drinking water, the fishery in the Straits, Tribal rights, the Pure Michigan economy, the climate, and a way of life.
Below is guidance from FLOW on what to include in your written comments and how to submit them online by Monday’s deadline. EGLE expects to issue its final decision on the oil tunnel permits and for wastewater impacts in late November and impacts to wetlands and submerged lands in early December.
Points to Make in Public Comments by Oct. 19
FLOW is providing this content for you to draw from and supplement with your own information and perspective in your comment to EGLE on the proposed Line 5 tunnel permits:
Not authorized by the state — EGLE cannot properly proceed on administering the Enbridge permit applications unless and until the December 2018 Easement and tunnel lease have been authorized under sections 2 and 3 of the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act and the Public Trust Doctrine.
Not good for the climate or Gov. Whitmer’s goals — EGLE must take into account the lifetime greenhouse gas emissions attributable to the proposed petroleum tunnel, particularly in light of Governor Whitmer’s Executive Directive 2020-10 setting a goal of economy-wide carbon neutrality by 2050. Extending the life of Line 5 for the next 99 years with the tunnel project is fundamentally at odds with the reduction of greenhouse gases necessary to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change.
Not good for public health, safety, and welfare — EGLE is required to determine whether extending the life of an oil pipeline that will emit approximately tens of million tons of greenhouse gases annually for the next 99 years, under the state Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, “is consistent with the promotion of the public health, safety and welfare in light of the state’s paramount concern for the protection of its natural resources from pollution, impairment or destruction.”
Not a public need for the oil tunnel — EGLE must make a number of specific determinations, including whether the benefits of the project outweigh reasonably foreseeable detriments, the extent to which there is a public and private need for the project, and whether there are feasible and prudent alternatives to the tunnel project. Unless these determinations are clearly demonstrated by the applicant Enbridge, the permit is prohibited by the Michigan Environmental Protection Act and the Wetlands Protection Act.
How to Submit Your Comments to EGLE by Oct. 19
Be sure to submit your comments on Enbridge’s proposed Line 5 oil tunnel by the Monday, Oct. 19 deadline. The public can submit comments either by email to EGLE-Enbridge-Comments@Michigan.gov — referencing Application Number HNY-NHX4-FSR2Q — or via two EGLE web pages for commenting separately on each of the permits. Click on each link below and follow the instructions provided by the state:
EGLE public comment page for Part 303 wetland impacts and Part 325 Great Lakes submerged lands impacts.
EGLE public comment page for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) wastewater impacts.
How to Learn More about Line 5 and the Risky Oil Tunnel
To learn more about Enbridge Line 5 and the proposed oil tunnel, see these resources on FLOW’s website:
Starting Tuesday, Sept. 29, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) will host four online public hearings and receive public comment on the expected wetland and wastewater impacts of constructing and operating Enbridge’s proposed, roughly four mile-long oil tunnel under the Great Lakes. The tunnel would house a new Line 5 pipeline to continue carrying up to 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids a day through the public trust bottomlands of the Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron.
It’s important for the members of the public—including individuals, families, business owners, community leaders, and others—to sign up ASAP to comment at these online public hearings using the links below because public comment during the meetings likely will be first-come, first-served.
To assist you, FLOW is providing guidance below on the public hearing schedule that runs from Sept. 29 to Oct. 8, how to sign up to comment, key points to consider making, and a template email you can tailor and submit as your written comment too by the Oct. 19 written comment deadline.
Hearing Schedule—Click a link below to register via Zoom and select “Yes” where it asks, “Would you like to make an official comment at this hearing?”:
EGLE Public Hearing on Enbridge Line 5 Application for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Wastewater Permit (same meeting will be held once during the day and once at night):
Points to Make in Public Comments at the Public Hearings — FLOW is providing this content for you to draw from and supplement with your own information and perspective. EGLE will provide up to 3 minutes for each public comment. Start by stating your name, where you live, and if you are representing an organization, indicate which one. Here’s our guidance:
Not in Support:
I urge EGLE and the state of Michigan to deny Enbridge’s wetlands resource and NPDES wastewater permit requests to build a tunnel for the Line 5 oil pipeline through the public trust bottomlands of the Straits of Mackinac for the following reasons: 1. Enbridge’s application and project description is too narrow, and does not consider the cumulative effects, the existence of alternatives to the tunnel and wetlands related project purpose pursuant to Sections 303011(1) and 30311(4)(b) of the Wetland Protection Act.
Not authorized — The new easement (December 2018) granted by the former Snyder administration to the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority and assigned to Enbridge for the proposed tunnel is invalid because it has not been authorized based on the required determinations of the Part 325 of the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act and/or section 2129 of the public utility easement in bottomlands of Great Lakes law, MCL 324.2129.
Not a Solution, nor the Best Alternative:
It is clear that taking 5-10 more years to study, seek permits, and build a crude oil tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac is not a solution because it fails to address Line 5’s immediate threat to the Great Lakes and Pure Michigan economy and the risk posed by the pipeline’s more than 400 stream and river crossings in the Upper and Lower Peninsulas.
Enbridge’s proposal to allow electrical lines and other infrastructure to occupy the proposed oil pipeline tunnel is a bad idea that poses an explosion risk.
Not Fully Disclosed:
Enbridge has indicated that the size of the proposed tunnel will increase from a 10 ft diameter to an 18-21 foot diameter, yet Enbridge continues to use the original estimate of $500 million. Since consumers will ultimately pay for the tunnel, it is important to determine the new estimated cost.
The announcement by EGLE that it will defer to other agencies or the MPSC to consider the likely effects and alternatives of the proposed tunnel project is contrary to the law of Michigan under the Michigan Environmental Protection Act (MEPA). MCL 324.1701 and applicable court decisions.
Not Acceptable — Wastewater and Wetland Impacts:
Enbridge is requesting to release up to 5 million gallons/day of treated wastewater back into Lake Michigan on the south shore and up to 14 million gallons daily during storm events. What chemicals will be used in the tunneling process and how will the wastewater be treated to remove those chemicals?
If the waters of the Straits are contaminated, there would be extremely negative impacts to fish populations, tribal fishing rights, and communities who rely on drinking water from the lake and tourism business. How can EGLE consider this permit without having the full details about treatment plans and what chemicals will be used?
Doubling the tunnel diameter also results in quadrupling the volume, with four times as much excavated materials to be removed, staged, and disposed of. What are the increased environmental risks associated with the excavation, staging and disposition of these materials?
Michigan courts have consistently recognized that the Michigan Environmental Protection Act (MEPA) imposes additional environmental review requirements that are supplemental to existing administrative and statutory requirements. Is EGLE conducting a thorough review under MEPA?
Not in the Public Interest:
A permit under Part 303 Wetland Protection “shall not be approved unless the department determines that the issuance of a permit is in the public interest… In determining whether the activity is in the public interest, the benefit which reasonably may be expected to accrue from the proposal shall be balanced against the reasonably foreseeable detriments of the activity.” Clearly this project is not in the public interest when considering the impacts to public surface waters, public bottomlands, public drinking water supplies, the climate, and economy.
A permit under Part 303 Wetland Protection Act “shall not be approved” unless the applicant demonstrates the “need” for the project; clearly, this project is not needed given the obvious decline in demand for oil in the U.S. and world, and because Enbridge’s and Michigan’s future needs for crude oil can be satisfied by the existing crude oil pipeline system in North American and the U.S; and, because the design capacity of Line 6b (now 78) across southern Michigan from Indiana to Sarnia and Detroit or Toledo was doubled when replaced in 2012-2014, which can reasonably handle all of the volume of crude oil and natural gas liquids transported by Line 5 and Straits dual pipelines.
Not Good for the Climate nor Economy:
Line 5 conveys approximately 8.4 billion gallons of oil and natural gas liquids per year, and when burned, yield over 57 million metric tons of CO2 annually. How can EGLE authorize the tunnel in the face of the incontrovertible evidence of environmental and economic harm caused by climate change?
Oil when burned, releases carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and unburned hydrocarbons, impairing air quality and having monetizable environmental and health impacts. EGLE must compare the social costs against the benefits.
Continued capital investment in fossil fuel infrastructure is fundamentally at odds with addressing the existential threat of climate change.
Federal agencies must determine the carbon emissions attributable to projects under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA); EGLE and the MPSC must undertake the same analyses under MEPA.
Under Part 303, EGLE must consider “the availability of feasible and prudent alternative locations and methods to accomplish the expected benefits from the activity.” EGLE must evaluate the following:
To what extent did the 2010 catastrophic failure and oil spill from Enbridge Line 6B into the Kalamazoo River watershed and the more recent temporary, full and then partial closure of Line 5 result in constriction of supply, market disruption, or price increases to end users?
Does Enbridge Line 6B in southern Michigan, now reconstructed with a larger diameter as Line 78, have the capacity to meet market demand if the tunnel is not built and Line 5 closes?
Is the carrying capacity of the existing network of North American pipelines sufficient to meet future needs? According to FLOW’s experts, 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.
Would cessation of Line 5 result in a new pipeline system equilibrium capable of meeting existing and future demand for oil and natural gas liquids?
What is the potential for the tunnel project to become a stranded asset and liability to the State of Michigan in the event market trends play out as predicted?
Written Comment Also Accepted — The public also can comment in writing at any time until EGLE’s comment deadline on Oct. 19. Here’s the:
Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign’s public comment form for you to personalize — drawing from FLOW’s guidance provided above — and send, or you can use the EGLE links below.
EGLE public comment page for Part 303 wetland impacts and Part 325 Great Lakes submerged lands impacts.