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Opinion | Great Lakes need protection. But shutting Line 5 is foolish.

Steve Bucci

Everyone living near the Great Lakes loves, respects and wants to protect them. The beauty and survival of America’s greatest water asset is non-negotiable. That said, common sense needs to be applied.

Ultimately, the decision about what to do with Line 5 under the Mackinac Straits shouldn’t be made solely on emotion, in deference to the oil industry, or the green wing of any party. 

First, some facts: Line 5 has been operating responsibly for more than six decades and last year’s anchor strike was an anomaly. Anchoring in proximity of the pipeline is not allowed and therefore should’ve never happened. The line sustained damage, but thankfully it didn’t leak. No one should take that happy outcome as evidence that it never will. Action is required and it needs to be taken in earnest.

Michigan still has three possible courses of action: do nothing, close down the line or take mitigating action to prevent future leaks but leave the pipeline in operation.  

First, the “do nothing” option is foolish. We dodged a bullet; we might not be so lucky in the future. Enbridge, the pipeline operator, immediately developed and put into motion a plan. They will pay for the entire project and ensure the future protection of the lakes. This differs from BP’s reaction to the Gulf of Mexico spill; Enbridge is acting responsibly.  

The second choice: close it down is a knee-jerk reaction that is nearly as unwise as the do-nothing path. To shut down the line immediately, as some elected officials have proposed (demanded actually), makes no sense. There is no immediate threat. The line isn’t leaking and prudent actions have been taken to prevent a repeat of the anchor strike scenario. If an accident did occur, the increased monitoring would allow for an immediate shutdown. That would still be bad, but not BP in the Gulf bad.  

So that leaves the middle of the road. Action is needed, but we do have the time to do it correctly, in a manner that doesn’t add to the economic challenges Michigan already faces.  

Line 5 has an enormously beneficial effect on Michigan’s economy. Enbridge alone pumps close to $160 million in taxes, wages and capital expenditures into Michigan; shutting down the line would severely curtail that. The cost of fuel refined in southern Michigan (and neighboring Ohio) would skyrocket if left to be transported by truck, the most likely alternative to the line. There are also hidden infrastructure costs accrued through the thousands of additional tanker trucks.  

Ideology shouldn’t drive this decision, nor should corporate greed. Take the middle road; Continue the already started mitigation plan, which will provide a protected pipeline for decades to come. Put in place the protections our lakes deserve without placing the burden on the backs of working-class Michiganders.  

The Enbridge mitigation project is a prime example of the types of inter-country energy infrastructure projects that sustain our highly integrated and interdependent North American energy market built with our United States – Mexico - Canada (USMCA) trading partners. We bring in raw materials from Canada and Mexico, convert them to higher-value products and then resell them. As a result, we have seen tremendous value creation and investment happening across the North American energy industry.

This sort of systemic integration enhances U.S. energy security by enabling North American energy self-sufficiency. These types of pipeline modernization projects will only further bolster our nation’s energy security by allowing us to meet the demands of consumers and businesses efficiently while sustaining an energy market that provides millions of jobs across the country. 

Finally, prematurely decommissioning a project like Line 5 and halting investments in critical energy transmission infrastructure would immediately disrupt the energy supply for Michigan residents, businesses and U.S. refineries. Jobs will be lost. In the longer term, it would undermine the system that NAFTA has built and USMCA intends to sustain. 

Let’s protect the lakes and the people of Michigan.

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Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact David Zeman. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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