Dear Michigan LCV Family,
Welcome to the Nov. 19th edition of Three Things Thursday. While the insanity of the 2020 elections continues to play out across the country and COVID-19 numbers continue to rise, including right here in Michigan, something happened here last Friday that made headlines across the globe: Governor Whitmer ordered the decommissioning of Enbridge Energy’s Line 5 pipeline. This week’s Three Things focus on that decision–how we got here, what it means, and how things may play out in the months ahead.
Before jumping in, I want to take a moment to reflect on something else that has put Michigan in the national news: this week’s events at the Wayne County Board of Canvassers. (Here’s a Washington Post article entitled, “For three hours, an obscure county board in Michigan was at the center of U.S. Politics.”)
On Tuesday evening, two Republican members of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers, in an unprecedented move, initially voted to not certify Wayne County’s election results. During deliberation, they entertained the notion of certifying only if the city of Detroit’s votes were excluded. Their reason was clearly partisan and racist; it was a blatant attempt to discount voters’ voices from Detroit — a city that is 80% African American, 94% of whom voted for Joe Biden.
For hours, Detroiters, poll workers, elected officials and voting rights advocates spoke directly to the Wayne County Board of Canvassers during a marathon public meeting held on Zoom. The messages were clear, concise and compelling, calling out the two Board of Canvassers members for silencing the voices of hundreds of thousands of Michigan voters and, in so doing, obstructing our democracy.
In an astonishing change of course, however, six hours after the session began, the Board of Canvassers unanimously agreed to certify the ballots and democracy prevailed. Following Tuesday’s events, we issued a joint statement with All Voting is Local Michigan, ACLU of Michigan, Detroit Action, Emgage, League of Women Voters, Michigan United and Voters Not Politicians urging the State Board of Canvassers to certify the results. While the shenanigans continue in Wayne County today (again garnering national attention), the process has moved to the next stage where the Wayne Board of Canvassers no longer has jurisdiction over the Wayne County votes.
I want to express my deep gratitude for all who spoke at the public meeting, including our Civic Engagement Director and Detroit resident Clare Allenson. I encourage you to read this hard-hitting op-ed by Detroit Free Press columnist Nancy Kaffer who doesn’t mince words in her account of the meeting.
Please keep in mind that this was a successful election. Thousands of public servant clerks and volunteer election workers implemented the new voting rights adopted by Michigan voters via Prop 3 in 2018. This facilitated record setting turnout — 5.5 million voters cast ballots; 3.3 million voted safely from home; 29,000 took advantage of their new right to register and vote on election day, with more than a third of them being 21 years old or younger. The 2020 election was conducted fairly, securely and transparently, and all within the confines of a devastating global pandemic.
The State Board of Canvassers will meet to certify Michigan’s elections results on Monday, Nov. 23. I will report back on this next week.
Now, on to the Three Things:
1. Whitmer announces Line 5 will be shut down: How did we get here?
Let’s take a moment to reflect on how Line 5 moved from a basically unknown (invisible) oil pipeline to a rallying point for the Michigan environmentalists, Native American Tribes, and residents throughout the state who care deeply about the Great Lakes and the protection of our waters, resulting in strong actions on the part of both Governor Whitmer and Attorney General Nessel over the past two years to shut the line down.
It is important to recognize from the outset that there were many pivotal moments and key players that led us to this moment. The National Wildlife Federation, Tribal leaders, like the Bay Mills Indian Community, For Love of Water (FLOW), Oil & Water Don’t Mix, Michigan Environmental Council, Groundwork Center, Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, environmental justice advocates, the Great Lakes Business Network, the Sierra Club, and–yes, Michigan LCV — were all critical players. Rather than go into the nitty gritty of the individual and collective work, I want to focus on a few flashpoints that were key in getting us to where we are today.
First, the Enbridge Line 6b tar sands oil pipeline disaster in 2010, one of the largest and most expensive inland oil spills in U.S. history, was a complete and absolute tragedy that upended the lives of local residents and businesses near Marshall, MI and the Kalamazoo River (including Larry Bell and Bell’s Brewery) leaving behind contamination that is still felt a decade later. In the wake of the unacceptable size and criminal negligence of this spill, Congress and government agencies changed laws and the advocacy community in Michigan considered a fundamental question: where else in our state are we vulnerable to spills, especially from Enbridge pipelines? The answer was uncovered through a group effort, but arguably no one has done more to investigate this issue and discover the problem of Line 5 than Beth Wallace of the National Wildlife Federation, who grew up not far from the spill site. Discovering that ancient, dual pipelines were lying at the bottom of the Straits was a shock to Beth and, in turn, the community writ large, and led to the writing of the seminal 2012 report, “Sunken Hazards” — kicking off a multi-faceted campaign to bring awareness to Line 5 and the huge risk it poses to the Great Lakes, our state, and the sovereign rights of indigenous Tribal nations.
Once the potential for an oil spill became a reality for people across Michigan, the question everyone asked was: what would be the impact? An independent dive team was deployed in 2013 to capture photos and video of the pipeline, forever putting the image in our minds of the old, rusty condition of the line. A year later, in Spring of 2014, the University of Michigan released a report led by David J. Schwab, PhD, concluding that the Straits of Mackinac is “the worst possible place for an oil spill in the Great Lakes” due to the strong and quickly changing currents. The report gave us a glimpse at just how widespread an oil spill could be, spewing oil as far as 35 miles to the West, reaching Beaver Island, and 50 miles to the southeast, all the way to Rogers City. With the true impact known, Native American Tribes, residents, and business leaders sounded the alarm even louder. Line 5 became a kitchen table topic and established itself as one of the most pressing environmental concerns of our time.
Fast forward to 2018. A second University of Michigan study was released detailing the impacts of a worst case oil spill in the Straits. The study used sophisticated computer modeling to visually show just how much oil could spread through the Great Lakes currents, and concluded a Line 5 rupture could impact 700 miles of Great Lakes shoreline. It was the most comprehensive study of a potential Line 5 oil spill to date and made it crystal clear the risks the pipeline poses to our Great Lakes. It was clear to pretty much everyone that the current pipeline needed to go at some point.
Several studies were commissioned by the state, but NWF and the Mott Foundation commissioned a pivotal London Economics International study of alternatives that added to the large existing body of evidence (from groups like Groundwork Center and FLOW) that Michigan didn’t need Line 5. In the meantime, federal decision-makers, like Senator Gary Peters, drafted and enacted many provisions aimed at pipeline spill prevention and improving oil spill cleanup in freshwater and the Great Lakes*.
Many of these early studies were made possible due to the support of individuals alarmed and mobilized by the threat to our water, with a prime example being members of “the Wolfpack,” a group of outstanding community leaders based in southeast Michigan. But it took many people and organizations to do the painstaking work of educating people and decision-makers about Line 5’s potential for catastrophe. Anchored (no pun intended) by the determined Oil and Water Don’t Mix coalition (featuring numerous leading environmental organizations), the Straits of Mackinac Alliance (and Mackinac Island residents), Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, Tribal leaders (especially members of the Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority–CORA– with sovereign 1836 Treaty fishing rights in the Straits and the Water Protectors), environmental justice leaders highlighting the links between Line 5 and toxic air pollution, the Water is Life Alliance , the Great Lakes Business Network, Friends of Mackinac Bridge, and so many others, a strong and steady corps of Line 5 advocates and experts brought forward the knowledge, facts, passion, and tactics (like the famous Pipe Out Paddle Protests, Mackinac Island Policy Conference actions, and rallies/lobby days in Lansing) necessary to respond to Enbridge’s constant misinformation and elevate this issue to the highest levels.
Enter Gretchen Whitmer and Dana Nessel. The importance of the 2018 election cannot be overstated. Our water, our health and our futures were on the ballot. On the campaign trail, Governor Whitmer made protecting our water a central point of her campaign, promising to shut down Line 5 once taking office. Michigan LCV invested heavily in her race as part of the #OurWater campaign, executing the largest electoral campaign in our organization’s history. Whitmer’s opponent, then Attorney General Bill Schuette, was a Line 5 proponent, and I’m confident that if he had been elected, the actions to decommission Line 5 would never have taken place. Indeed, the only way oil would ever have ceased to flow through our Great Lakes would have been in the event of a major catastrophe.
Shortly after taking office, Governor Whitmer and Attorney General Nessel took action. The impact AG Nessel had on the Line 5 fight was significant, filing lawsuits against Enbridge challenging the company for its negligence and safety violations. She also challenged the Legislature’s Lame Duck effort to codify a tunnel proposal to replace Line 5 and keep our state tied to fossil fuel infrastructure. AG Nessel sued Enbridge on behalf of the people of Michigan to stop the pipeline’s operations for violating the state of Michigan’s public trust. Her actions to hold Enbridge accountable have been invaluable as she championed our Great Lakes and the people of Michigan.
The fight on the legal front thus far has had both wins and losses. But, Governor Whitmer and AG Nessel have been determined, not taking “no” for an answer. They followed the facts, and the Department of Natural Resources deserves credit for detailing and documenting Enbridge’s multiple and egregious violations through their thorough easement review process.
All of this leads us to where we are now, with Governor Whitmer’s announcement last Friday that–after reviewing the extensive violations of Enbridge’s easement agreement with the state– the company cannot be trusted to continue operating Line 5 and shutting it down is the right move for Michigan.
2. What shutting down Line 5 means for our Great Lakes and our economy
Governor Whitmer’s decision to revoke the easement and move to shut down the Line 5 pipeline is a monumental victory for the state of Michigan. For far too long, the pipeline has been allowed to operate, risking an oil spill in our precious Great Lakes. With most of the oil and natural gas that are pumped through Line 5 redirected back into Canada, Michiganders bear all the risk while Enbridge profits. The tragedy of pipelines is that, in most cases, they aren’t shut down until they rupture and cause environmental catastrophe. By then, it’s too late. Governor Whitmer is demonstrating foresight and bold leadership in her move to stop a spill before it happens and protect our Great Lakes.
So what does shutting down Line 5 mean for the protection of the Great Lakes and Michigan’s economy?
Governor Whitmer revoked Enbridge’s easement agreement because the Canadian oil company continuously violated safety measures and it’s Governor Whitmer’s duty to protect our Great Lakes. Due to the condition of the Line and Enbridge’s malfeasance, she was forced to shut down Line 5.
The 67-year-old pipeline is not safe to operate and has suffered multiple anchor strikes from boats traveling through the Straits. These events have damaged the pipeline beyond repair and Enbridge has demonstrated it is not capable of preventing further damage.
An oil spill from Line 5 would impact more than 700 miles of coastline around the Great Lakes, proving catastrophic for environmental health, Great Lakes ecosystems, and the drinking water of more than 15 million people in the region. Whitmer’s action to shut down Line 5 will eliminate the risk of an oil spill in our Great Lakes once and for all.
Gov. Whitmer’s decision to shut down Line 5 also protects our economy. By shutting down the pipeline, Michigan can make significant steps toward a clean energy future while creating jobs and ensuring that local economies and livelihoods are protected from the impact of a potential oil spill.
If Line 5 ruptured, more than 214,000 Michigan jobs supported by tourism alone would be at risk. In a state that relies so heavily on tourism, especially within small, local economies, shutting down Line 5 makes good economic sense. In addition to protecting existing businesses and livelihoods, the pipeline’s closure will produce new jobs in Michigan and allow the implementation of clean, renewable energy as we move towards a carbon neutral economy, as laid out in Governor Whitmer’s MI Healthy Climate Plan. For perspective, Michigan’s big 3 auto companies are already investing heavily in electric vehicles and this will only continue, reducing the demand for oil as we transition to cleaner sources of transportation.
With only 116 jobs currently supported by Enbridge in Michigan, the jobs at risk if Line 5 ruptures far outweigh what the pipeline currently supports. Despite fears of higher propane prices and heating problems in the Upper Peninsula, multiple studies have shown the closure of Line 5 will not cause significant changes in cost. Additionally, Line 5 is not the end-all for propane in the U.P. In fact the U.P. Energy Task Force has proposed a variety of recommendations to meet the propane demand, one of which being 3-4 truckloads or 1-2 train cars of propane per day. By shutting down Line 5 and investing in clean energy jobs, Michigan can grow our economy and protect livelihoods of Michiganders across the state that depend on the health and wellbeing of our water.
3. What happens next, and what you can do.
The bottom line is Governor Whitmer moved to shut down Line 5 out of necessity. It is her constitutional duty to protect our Great Lakes and the Governor is fulfilling that obligation. The timeline for Line 5 being shutdown is May 2021.
This decision does not impact Enbridge’s permit application to build a tunnel under the Straits to replace Line 5. That fight still continues. We know, however, that the proposed tunnel will only anchor our state unnecessarily to another generation of fossil fuel infrastructure when it’s clear the transition to clean, renewable sources is already underway. Please know that Michigan LCV is actively engaged in this process believing the construction of an oil tunnel is the wrong move for our Great Lakes and our long-term economic and environmental health.
In the midst of this incredibly challenging global pandemic, as she does all she can to protect the health and safety of Michiganders, Gov. Whitmer boldly stepped out to address this enormous threat to our Great Lakes. We have launched an online action to send messages to Gov. Whitmer, thanking her for her leadership. I urge you to take a moment to send a message to Gov. Whitmer letting her know you’ve got her back.
(Please know we have scored the Governor’s action on our digital accountability suite. You can view that score here.)
As you go through your day, you may find opportunities to talk about Line 5. We created a two page summary on the Line 5 shutdown, which includes key facts and talking points. I encourage you to give it a read and use it in your conversations about why this is a monumental win for our state.
Thank you for your support as we’ve worked with numerous partners on this effort. We couldn’t have gotten here without collective action on the part of our donors, partners, staff and members. Please know we will keep you well-informed as the next steps unfold.
* Please know that Michigan LCV’s very own Senior Partnerships Manager, Bentley Johnson, previously served in Senator Peters’ DC office and played a lead role in the Senator’s early work on pipeline safety, spill prevention, and response.