Tag: Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council

Tribes and Environmental Groups Will Help Decide Fate of Proposed Line 5 Oil Tunnel in the Great Lakes

enbridges-line-5-under-the-straits-of-mackinac-4f9997139d321d60

MPSC seeks public comments online and at August 24 public hearing

Jim Olson is FLOW’s Founder, President, and Legal Advisor

By Jim Olson

Good news arrived recently for citizens concerned about Enbridge’s dangerous Line 5 pipelines that convey millions of gallons of petroleum each day, and the proposed massive new tunnel pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac — the very heart of the Great Lakes.

Administrative Law Judge Dennis W. Mack, who is handling the contested case for the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) on Enbridge’s application for the Line 5 tunnel and tunnel pipeline, issued a ruling August 13 granting intervention to participate in the case to several federally recognized Indian tribes in Michigan and key environmental groups, including FLOW, that petitioned to bring special knowledge and expertise to the case.

The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) granted intervention to a total of 13 entities, including four tribes — Bay Mills Indian Community, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, and the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi, providing the first three tribes listed with an opportunity to formally assert their treaty rights this way for the first time. The Nottawaseppi Huron Band, based in Calhoun County, will bring their knowledge and experience gained by living near the site of Enbridge’s disastrous Line 6B pipeline spill in 2010 into the Kalamazoo River watershed. 

The ALJ also granted intervention to five environmental organizations — the Environmental Law & Policy Center with the Michigan Climate Action Network, For Love of Water (FLOW), Michigan Environmental Council, National Wildlife Federation, and the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council — with reach across the state of Michigan, Great Lakes region, and nation. The Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority, Michigan Attorney General, Michigan Laborers’ District Council, and Michigan Propane Gas Association & National Propane Gas Association also were allowed to intervene in the case.

Enbridge filed a 17-page objection to the intervention by the organizations’ and tribes’ participation as parties in the case, taking the extreme position that since the MPSC granted approval in 1953 for the existing Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac, Enbridge doesn’t need approval now for the proposed half-billion-dollar tunnel and tunnel pipeline.

FLOW and other organizations filed replies to Enbridge’s objection to their intervening in the case, pointing out that the MPSC in June had already rejected the company’s attempt to cut off further review and obtain immediate approval of the project without a comprehensive review of necessity, public interest at stake, impacts, and alternatives to the massive project. Over Enbridge’s objections, Judge Mack recognized the significant interests and rights and the unique perspective and expertise these organizations and sovereign tribes will bring to the case.

The comprehensive review and proceeding before the MPSC will continue in stages addressed by a scheduling memorandum entered August 13 by Administrative Law Judge Mack. Legal questions involving the nature and scope of the review required by the MPSC governing laws and regulations, the Michigan Environmental Protection Act (MEPA), and public trust principles that govern the Straits of Mackinac will be argued and decided between now and late October. After that, the case will proceed with discovery and exchange of information, direct testimony, rebuttal testimony, and cross examination of the testimony and evidence from late November until next summer, with a decision by the MPSC expected in early fall of 2021.

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Comment Now or at MPSC’s Aug. 24 Virtual Public Hearing

The Michigan Public Service Commission has invited public comments on Enbridge’s tunnel proposal through written submissions, as well as by telephone during an online public hearing scheduled for August 24, 2020. Oil & Water Don’t Mix, which FLOW co-leads with allied tribal and environmental groups, has created this easy tool for you to submit your comment to the MPSC opposing an Enbridge oil tunnel through the public bottomlands in the Straits of Mackinac. You also can sign up here or here to comment at the MPSC public hearing.

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See FLOW’s recent coverage of the Michigan Public Service Commission review of the Enbridge oil pipeline tunnel here:

FLOW attends Northern Michigan Pipeline Symposium

On Tuesday night June 24, 2014, approximately 150 concerned citizens gathered together at Petoskey High School to learn and ask questions about Enbridge Energy and their future plans for pipeline 5.  A wide range of advocacy and regulatory groups were also in attendance and participated in the discussion panel that followed after presentations form PHMSA, Enbridge, and the EPA.

The symposium was structured with a very controlled design. Enbridge along with a number of overlapping agencies and advocacy groups welcomed discussion at tables outside the auditorium before the event started. It was hard to see Enbridge’s table as they were crowded with protesters and students from MI-CATS (Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands) calling out claims against the energy company. Amongst the 2 bodyguards present with Enbridge, a nervous demeanor was apparent in the shaky voice of their representatives.

Allan Beshore was the first speaker to present. He represented the US Dept of Transportation’s PHMSA (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration) group and provided an explanation of PHMSA’s involvement with the oil and gas industry. The jolly Kansan kept his talk simple and bland with factual information. Allan’s message was that PHMSA is not just a regulating entity but also a group that has a mindset towards providing stewardship to affected communities. Interestingly enough, Allan did note during his presentation that corrosion and equipment failure historically have been the largest occurrence to pipeline breaks.

When Brad Shamla, Enbridge Energy’s Vice President of North American operations took the stage he was met with dissatisfying boo’s from the crowd. Brad focused on the history of Enbridge and made it clear that they have learned a lot from the Kalamazoo spill in 2010. He made sure to underline the fact that Enbridge has invested millions in new green energy technology, safety measures, and attempts to improve the image and culture of their company since the spill in 2010. It was evident that Enbridge wanted to portray their effort to increase public awareness and community outreach also. Thematically the presenters held to a “trust us mentality” assuring citizens they have improved systems since the Kalamazoo oil spill. Yet, nothing seemed too compelling or new in Brad’s talk. While Enbridge has largely grown its employment over the last 4 years, only 250 jobs will be created in Michigan from their proposed pipeline 5 work.

Ralph Dollhopf an on-scene coordinator from the EPA was the last to speak. Ralph discussed the oil and hazardous substance national contingency plan. Reviewing the steps of the process towards executing the plan in the event of a spill.  Concerns about tar sands sinking or floating in water were addressed time and again as Ralph based his explanation off the fact that “weathering factors” play a large role in determining sink/float characteristics of oil. This makes it hard to determine any universal cause plan for a spill without knowing the characteristics of the body of water it occurs in.

Initiating the Q & A session 15 people took the stage representing:

Enbridge

American Petroleum Institute

PHMSA- Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration

US Environmental Protection Agency

Coast Guard

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality

Michigan Public Service Commission

Tri-County Emergency Management

Regional Health Department

Marine Pollution Control

Pipeline Safety Trust

Michigan Environmental Council

Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council

Panel questions were predetermined and due to time constraints limited to addressing only a portion of all the questions. Enbridge’s V.P. provided open-ended answers and vague clarifications to most questions as the large majority were directed at him. The rest of the representatives held true to a message of how prepared they are in the event of an oil spill. Bill Hazel, Director of Marine Services from Marine Pollution Control made a point that focus needs to not only be on post-spill contingency plans but also pre-spill. It was clear that there was a lack of preventative tools used to contain spills in the event of a pipeline break in the straights. Today in Mackinaw City there is less than 1 mile of boom ready for deployment in the event of a spill.

FLOW’s submitted question for the panel went relatively unaddressed. “Has Enbridge obtained authorization from DEQ under Part 325, Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act for placement and use of the pipeline”?  In response the DEQ avoided directly answering the question stating that the DNR holds the easement and little was known about it, while Enbridge held to the claim that pipeline 5 was grandfathered in under PA 10 back in the 1950s. To be blunt both spokesman seemed unprepared to answer any public trust questions.

In writing the narrative for the symposium a true lack of public transparency took shape in the thesis. If there is a necessity to move oil, pipelines seem to be the most efficient means and an agreement must be found to regulate them. Given Michigan’s immense wealth in the natural resource of water, public trust responsibility is very important. Enbridge Energy came to the event hoping to reassure the public that they are prepared for a potential pipe burst but did not answer anyone’s direct concerns. Enbridge is only looking to seek resolution based on their past history which acknowledges the public’s biggest fear of the energy company, another spill. Citizens left the symposium with more doubt unsure of what the future will hold; it’s the public’s Great Lakes and everyone has the right to know what is occurring in their waters.

A special thanks to Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council for organizing and running this event.

News coverage can be found here: Local NBC affiliate’s story   IPR Public Radio’s story