Opinion | Dana Nessel: Line 5 must close to protect all of Michigan

Dana Nessel

Michigan’s attorney general explains why she sued to close the controversial Line 5 gas pipeline that passes beneath the Mackinac Straits.

The scare tactics surrounding my office’s lawsuit to decommission Line 5 have whipped people into a frenzy of misinformation and concern.

Let’s get one thing straight: We specifically asked the court to shut down and decommission Line 5 as soon as possible only after a reasonable notice period to allow orderly adjustments by those who are affected.

Let me repeat that last phrase, as it is being lost in a cloud of political rhetoric: we are asking the court to order a shutdown and decommission of Line 5 only AFTER a reasonable notice period to allow orderly adjustments by affected parties.

Related: Michigan AG Dana Nessel files lawsuit to shut down Line 5 in Mackinac Straits

That means residents of the Upper Peninsula, who likely get a majority of their propane via Line 5, are not being ignored, neglected, or frozen out of the process – literally or figuratively. In fact, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer established an Upper Peninsula Energy Task Force specifically to find alternative ways to provide energy to our residents.

We have come to rely on Line 5 for certain products it carries despite the fact that it presents an extraordinary, unreasonable threat to the public because of the very real risk of further anchor strikes, along with the inherent risks of pipeline operations. We lucked out when an April 2018 anchor dragged across and only damaged Line 5. Had the anchor ruptured Line 5, we would have experienced irreparable devastation to our environment and shut down the propane supply to many in the U.P. with no notice.

Our dependency on Line 5 should have been addressed years ago with contingency plans and a replacement system that could be put in place immediately to serve the U.P. without disruption. But that’s not the case. So what should have been done years ago must be done now – because whether or not the court orders Line 5 to be decommissioned, we absolutely must prepare for the eventuality that Line 5 will no longer be able to serve the U.P. 

Naturally, residents are concerned. They’ve been led to believe they won’t have propane to heat their homes or, if propane is available, prices will skyrocket.

Neither is true. First, let me repeat what we asked the court to do: issue an order to shut down and decommission Line 5 as soon as possible after a reasonable notice period to allow orderly adjustments by those who are affected. Nothing happens until there is a reasonable and responsible plan to ensure access to energy.

Second, multiple independent studies show that the net price increase per gallon of propane should Line 5 shut down would be 5–11 cents, based on an average price of about $2 per gallon. That assumes, of course, there is advanced notice of a shutdown (versus a rupture) to allow time to arrange alternative supply, likely by truck or possibly rail. With an average household consumption of 120 gallons per month, the expected increase is anywhere from $6 to $13.20/month – roughly the price of one or two pasties from Lehto’s in St. Ignace.

My office has already been taking aggressive action to reduce the overall energy burden for Michigan residents – saving customers more than $306 million by helping reduce rate increase requests so far this year. That includes an $8 million rate reduction for electric residential customers in Upper Peninsula Power Co.’s service area. In addition, we worked hard to redirect a corporate tax rate windfall for utilities so that it flows back to customers. Finally, we actively worked with Consumers Energy and continue to work with DTE on their integrated resource plans to increase the availability of renewable energy and reduce the reliance on fossil fuel.

We are also working on increasing help for low-income customers, including working with the Michigan Public Service Commission to find ways to increase funding for Michigan’s energy assistance programs.

While we argue our case in court, we will be working in tandem with the governor’s office, her UP Energy Task Force and the Michigan Public Service Commission to ensure alternatives are in place. No one is abandoning the Upper Peninsula. In fact, we are doing everything we can to maintain the quality of life unique to U.P. residents.

The debate over Line 5 has been raging for years. We cannot prevent accidental or emergency anchor deployments in one of the busiest shipping channels in the Great Lakes – and it only takes one such incident to cause an environmental and economic catastrophe that will outlive all of us. That is a risk no one should be willing to take.

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Mon, 07/22/2019 - 8:10am

Just to humor your argument, before we start the precedent of having the state seize this privately financed infrastructure /property, what is probability of a line rupture over the next 5 years while Embridge runs the new line (taking away your claimed concern of an anchor strike)? Yes this can be calculated, insurance companies run this analysis all the time!! And don't say any risk is too much, that is unscientific idiotic thinking.
Speaking of avoiding scare mongering, you say a rupture is irreparable, (I'll grant that it's not good). What was our experience with the Exon Valdez and the recovery from that spill? What would take longer to remediate the the effects of a spill or the effects of the accidental (inevitable?) introduction of invasive carp into the Great lakes? Assuming the later, why aren't you suing to close the Chicago Sanitary Canal (also the epitome of an unnatural diversion of Great Lakes water, you are so worked up over!!!)? Please answer this basic questions, after all, you Democrats claim the corner on scientific reasoning!

Mon, 07/22/2019 - 9:49am

For at least the last 10 years our former editor has been calling for a security bond from Enbridge to GUARANTEE the cost of this "unlikely" rupture. That would be an easy way for Enbridge, and not residents and taxpayers, to assume the exorbitant costs of a clean up, estimates of up to $40 billion. If the likelihood of a rupture is so rare the insurance should be very cheap . The former administration ignored him. Thankfully this one is not.

Mon, 07/22/2019 - 12:46pm

So what is the probability of this imagined rupture over the next 5 years we need to be saved from by seizing private assets? If you're/she is going to claim this HUGE and imminent risk you should be able to quantify it so we can understand. 1 in 100,000, 1 in a million? Billion? Bigger/smaller than an asteroid strike? What? Since she is determined to seize this property, she should be required tell us. But she and you won't. But of course ... that's not the real issue here.

Tue, 07/23/2019 - 11:32am

Do you have fire insurance on your house? The chance of it burning down is way less than 1%. The prudent thing to do is carry insurance because of the possible calamity of an inferno.
Since over 9 millions gallons of crude oil has spilled from ruptured pipelines in the US in less than a decade the chance of a pipeline rupture may be higher than 1%. I don't know what the probability is but if Enbridge was required to carry insurance they'd find out.
And we are definity not seizing the pipeline. Sixty five years ago Michigan gave permission for a pipeline that had a 50 year life expectancy to cross the state. AG Nessel is just saying "Times up. Permission withdrawn!

Tue, 07/23/2019 - 2:15pm

Jim, An Insurance company can tell exactly what the probability is of a fire burning down my home over the next year. What is the probability of failure and this existential disaster your side claims we need to be saved from? No one has given it, either because it's so remote to be ridicules or they don't want to do the engineering /actuarial work to develop it since that's not the real motive and resort to scare mongering instead. Yes the state gave the owners this right to run this pipeline without the ironclad date of termination, if they did, they abrogated it when it wasn't enforced at the 50 year mark. Like it our not they have a substantial property interest here that they should protect. Even then, Embridge has offered to invest a $1/2 Billion to take the line under surface, which still isn't good enough for your side because safe transmission of fuels, again isn't what this is about. Instead of this scaremongering nonsense, how about an honest debate on whether all Petrol infrastructure should be removed so to force the nation into your Green New Deal vision? That position, unlike this, is honest and at least worthy of some respect.

Tue, 07/23/2019 - 2:16am

Dude this is a new low even for you. Arguing on the side of oil spill's "REALLY". I am surprised you didn't bring up the Attorney Generals sexual preference seeing as all you Republicans show up in the Moral Majority Bus. HaHaHa!!!

Tue, 07/23/2019 - 7:36am

????? There's really no use dialoging with people who can't read.

Tue, 07/23/2019 - 2:30am

Matt, just for arguments sake why don't you tell us why your company just didn't upgrade or improve the protective devices around line 5 if they have the best interests of the Great Lakes in mind? If we went with your argument for virtual pennies they apparently own the bottom of the lake now, why would they have to be prodded to make, "ANY" improvements?

Mon, 07/22/2019 - 8:31am

So we have had one anchor strike and how many ruptures of Line #5 in the past how many years? Compare that to the wiping out of a large part of a Canadian village after a train derailment or the destroying of a bridge in Detroit after a tank truck accident.

Kathi Geukes
Mon, 07/22/2019 - 10:48am

So you would rather have the line rupture and wipe out the Great lakes?? What kind of sense does that make?? Oh and as far as using propane or oil...let's talk about sunshine….Shall we?? How about wind?? Let's combine the 2 to make sure the UP has all the electricity it needs even when the sun doesn't shine and the wind barely blows....shall we??????

Mon, 07/22/2019 - 12:23pm

Liberal logic makes me laugh. No, I do not want to wipe out the Great Lakes. But the probability of line 5 getting destroyed, especially in the new coming tunnel, is far, far lower than an accident on the railroads or highways.

And as for sun and wind, great. But a city in California recently passed a law that new houses should run on solar only, even though it would cost $10,000 per new home to do so. I’m sure the residents of the UP will gladly pay to convert their heating systems from propane to electric.

Mon, 07/22/2019 - 1:28pm

Please explain how this rupture wipes out the Great lakes. What percentage of oil to total great lakes water would be released in this even? Kathi, since you'r brought these up ... How are the built in safety valve systems on Line 5 insufficient to the task they're designed to prevent? How's that solar work at night? After using wind power for thousands of years mankind dropped it for combustion in a 100, a relative blink, why? How much land area are you willing to dedicate to wind and solar generation? Wouldn't monster wind and solar farms be considered "pollution" on their own right? If you have any idea please tell us the likelihood of this rupture between now and the time Embridge goes underground with it. Just curious what you know about this.

Mon, 07/22/2019 - 1:52pm

Shall we do 5 minutes of research to realize those won't even come close to working, let alone being practical, shall we?

Richard Morrissett
Mon, 07/22/2019 - 10:19am

Your plan has been well thought out. Good luck

Mon, 07/22/2019 - 11:17am

Bravo. A very reponsible plan of action. With all due haste PLEASE.

Mon, 07/22/2019 - 2:16pm

Just assuming you have no concept of being told no, or that you are wrong. Likewise, your legal opinion should never have the force of law, something which should have been changed long ago. This being said, you obviously didn't do any research in to this matter. Perhaps Governor Whitmer did remember and it explains her change in opinion on this matter. Under Governor Granholm, this issue was investigated and she wanted to also shut it down. In a judicial opinion by our own courts, the state did not have the legal authority to shut the pipeline down due to the contract. I was working for the state at that time and helped do some of the analysis. Perhaps instead of trying to force this issue, when there is already a precedent, put some effort in to making sure the tunnel they want to build is constructed to the highest standards possible, and it can be done to prevent any spill in to the straits. The longer it is in court, the longer it will take before it is done. That line also provides crude oil to the refineries in Detroit and Toledo. Whether anyone likes it or not, without pipelines, the state would pretty much grind to a halt overnight.

Mon, 07/22/2019 - 2:17pm

Bravo! The water is essential and belongs, not only to all of us, but to an entire healthy environment. Sorry, capitalists, since you refuse to protect the water, we have the right to choose another option.

Charlotte Morton
Sun, 07/28/2019 - 7:18pm

Great article John Putt. So many oil spills that probably were not suppose to happen, but they did. Even one is a tragedy for our precious Earth. Money should not be the object.
I found this study that found that MI is not even getting the benefits of the pipeline.
Line 5 pipeline study: Canada gets the oil, Michigan gets the risk://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2018/05/30/enbridge-canada-line-...
So why would we take the risk if Canada is getting the benefits of the pipeline????

Just a guy
Mon, 07/22/2019 - 6:14pm

The condescending remark about the price increase being the equivalent of one or two pasties is an insult. Treat your constituents as ADULTS and avoid pandering, or just skip the nonsense equivocation.

If you're willing to insert a throwaway line like that -- while the additional energy cost affects real people, it says a lot about your view of the people that I am sure you would say were "intelligent and chose wisely" when they elected you.

Tue, 07/23/2019 - 2:23am

I wasn't offended by her off the cuff remark. I think she try's to ex sued a friendly demeanor.

Teacher’s pet
Sun, 07/28/2019 - 1:57am

Does Bridge have any spelling and grammar standards?

Vince Caruso
Wed, 07/24/2019 - 4:03pm

Clean fresh water is the new oil, old oil is dead, long live clean fresh water for Michigan and beyond.
Michigan is the Saudi Arabia of Clean Fresh Water, take that to the bank.
One more pipeline strike or worse and it all will be lost for many generations.
Thanks again AG Nessel for putting up a fight for us Michiganders, we are a fighting lot!

Gary Lea
Sun, 07/28/2019 - 6:01am

I understand that fossil fuel interests expect increasing demand, but I’m with Dana, believing that risks aren’t worth benefits. I browsed these comments and found no reference to the Kalamazoo River oil spill. I don’t trust Enbridge.

John Roche
Sun, 07/28/2019 - 11:17am

I am disgusted by nearly all of the comments on both sides of this issue. Accusing other commenters of "idiocy", the inability to read, and/or pandering is both cruel and counter-productive. If you have something substantive to say, say it. But say it once. I am writing a letter to the editors of this organization regarding the fact that they not only allow the type of back/forth negativity that this discourse has devolved into but that they should require full names of all who comment. If you aren't able to state your case as an actual human being, you shouldn't be provided a free forum to do so. I won't be continuing my association with this publication unless it reins in the controls, within its forums, on the tenets of the golden rule. I am just one person with one opinion but I differ from many of you in one important way: I respect both myself and each of you. To coin an old but apt adage: It is something I learned in kindergarten.