Washington Weekly: September 29, 2021
The Past Week in D.C.
Updates from Congress:
- As the House finished mark-ups last week, there was almost unanimous agreement in Congress on the $3.5 trillion price tag for the Build Back Better Act. However, moderate Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema will now not say what they are willing to vote for, stalling negotiations even after pleas from President Biden himself.
- Speaker Pelosi initially planned to bring the bipartisan infrastructure bill to a vote tomorrow. Yet with moderates like Manchin and Sinema (as well as some in the House) insisting on passing the bipartisan infrastructure bill this week without any guarantee of the Build Back Better Act to follow, and progressives remaining firm in their commitment to vote “no” on the infrastructure bill without a vote on the Build Back Better Act, the fate of both bills hangs in the balance. The next 24 hours will be critical to the President’s agenda.
- As if the bipartisan infrastructure vote and Build Back Better negotiations were not chaotic enough, Congress must also vote to raise the debt ceiling or risk the country defaulting on its credit and vote to continue funding the government. Republicans have said they will not vote with Democrats on raising the debt limit, putting the world economy into jeopardy over what has been, in recent years, a relatively benign, bipartisan process. A vote to avoid a government shutdown is expected to pass before tomorrow’s deadline.
In yet another sign of its commitment to help tackle climate change, Ford Motor Company announced this week that it plans to spend billions of dollars to build 3 battery factories and an electric truck plant in Tennessee and Kentucky in the next 4 years. The move represents the single biggest investment in the company’s 118-year history, and will put Ford on a strong path to phase out all gas powered cars while creating 11,000 jobs. Details about what the location of the plants will mean for Michigan workers remains unknown.
According to a report just released in the journal Science, children born in 2021 will, on average, live through seven times as many heat waves, twice as many wildfires, and three times as many droughts, river floods, and crop failures as their grandparents. The study focused on how different generations will be affected by climate change. It, of course, comes as no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention that our unconscionable lack of action means that our kids and grandkids face an unprecedented and very dark climate future.
Michigan LCV Analysis: What does this mean for Michigan?
While oil pipelines have long been seen as a threat to the natural environments in which they operate, largely due to the very real potential for an oil spill, less attention has been given to the significant climate impact of pipelines. Now, that appears to be changing in Michigan and across the country.
A study published this past May in Energies introduced a new way to identify the largest sources of carbon emissions, called the “bottleneck method.” This technique looks beyond the obvious sources identified through point-source pollution (such as coal plants visibly emitting carbon dioxide into the air) and focuses instead on all phases of carbon dioxide emissions — from mining to transporting to refining to burning.
Using this approach, the study concluded that nine of the top ten carbon polluting sources are oil and gas pipelines. These findings confirm that shutting down existing pipelines and moving away from fossil fuels as a primary energy source must be central to our climate policies moving forward in order to meet President Biden’s, and the world’s, climate goals, and limit the most devastating impacts of climate change.
In Michigan, one specific pipeline presents an especially urgent threat to our environment, economy, and public health — the 645-mile long Line 5 oil pipeline built by Enbridge Energy in 1953 that runs through the heart of the Great Lakes.
Having long surpassed its lifespan of 50 years, and operated by a company responsible for one of the largest inland oil spills in U.S. history, Line 5 is truly a ticking time bomb that poses a direct threat to our Great Lakes, the world’s largest source of freshwater. A Line 5 oil spill would cause extensive and irreparable damage, including destruction of up to 700 miles of shoreline and 21 percent of the world’s fresh surface water.
Beyond the potential to destroy the Great Lakes and much of Michigan’s economy, Line 5 also presents an enormous climate problem. Each day, nearly 23 million gallons of Canadian tar sands oil, which produces up to 20% more carbon dioxide emissions than conventional oil, runs through the pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac, fostering our continued dependence on fossil fuel that is destroying our planet.
In November 2020, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer boldly and responsibly ordered the shut down of Line 5, the nation’s first ever closure of an operating pipeline (you can thank her here). Enbridge responded with a multi-million dollar lawsuit and public relations campaign to avoid the ordered shutdown, having already proposed construction of a very controversial tunnel to house the damaged pipeline in a bid to keep the oil flowing for as long as possible.
Last week, as the legal battle over both the shutdown and the decisions regarding the tunnel’s construction continues, the governor, environmental groups, and the millions of Michigan residents opposed to the tunnel recorded an early win, as expert witnesses testified in front of the Michigan Public Service Commission (who decide whether or not to give Enbridge a permit to build the tunnel) using climate data to argue against the tunnel’s construction — a first under the Michigan Environmental Protection Act. Their argument centered on the significant climate change impact of building the tunnel and continuing to operate the pipeline.
This critical testimony came after a hearing in April in which the MPSC ruled that it must consider evidence of greenhouse gas emissions caused by oil running through Line 5 in its review of the tunnel project — the first time that regulators in Michigan have made greenhouse gas emissions a factor in their review of a project.
Among other factors, the expert testimony highlighted that the proposed tunnel project would lead to 27 million metric tons of CO2 in the atmosphere every year (the greenhouse gas equivalent of having 6 million more cars on the road each year); result in net climate costs of up to $1.6 billion; and fly directly in the face of climate goals set by all current state, federal, and international elected leadership and the voters that put them their — including Governor Whitmer, President Biden, and all parties to the Paris Climate Accord.
Fortunately, in addition to the MPSC permit process, the Biden Administration’s U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced in June that they would be taking a hard look at the impacts of the tunnel through a full Environmental Impact Statement . (By the way, you can also send a message to President Biden urging him to support Governor Whitmer’s shut down order and reinforce Michigan’s authority to protect our public waters).
While the legal battle over the shutdown will likely rage on for months, and the MPSC permit decision is not expected until next year, factoring the massive climate impact — in addition to the obvious threat to the world’s largest freshwater source — in the conversation is a critical step, especially considering that climate issues are gaining momentum in Michigan, following a summer filled with record-setting extreme weather, and in D.C., where President Biden is working to get the boldest climate agenda in American history over the finish line.
A Deeper Dive
If today’s newsletter hasn’t yet convinced you of the need to shut down Line 5 for good, perhaps Michigan’s own Emmy Award-winning actor Jeff Daniels will be able to do so.
On the topic of oil spills, it is now clear that the destruction left in the path of Hurricane Ida this past summer included a spike in oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico. In the 2 weeks following Ida, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported an unprecedented total of 55 oil spills in the Gulf alone, compared to the typical 25 spills a month reported in all American waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf of Mexico. Use this interactive map to see where the spills took place. The combination of increasingly frequent and intense extreme storms caused by climate change, now leading to more frequent spills of the very oil that is causing the climate to change so rapidly, makes for an especially compelling argument to end our reliance on fossil fuels and shut down oil and gas pipelines all across the country.
Lastly, tomorrow, September 30th at 2:00pm, Michigan LCV is joining many partners to hold a rally outside of Representative Slotkin’s office in Lansing, MI (1100 W. Saginaw St. Lansing, MI 48915) to call on the entire Michigan congressional delegation to pass the full Build Back Better Act. Participants are encouraged to wear a mask and are required to if unvaccinated. Signs, shirts, and other swag will be available to all who come — register to attend here on Sierra Club Michigan’s website!