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Opinion | President Biden needs to stand up to Canada, shut down Line 5

This week, President Biden makes his first trip to Canada, visiting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. As they tick off the necessary pleasantries and get down to business, a discussion about energy transition should be at the top of the agenda.

Bob Sutherland and Juliette King-McAvoy

Bob Sutherland and Juliette King-McAvoy are co-chairs of the Great Lakes Business Network.

Enbridge Energy’s Line 5—an oil and gas pipeline running on the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac—enters its eighth decade this year, yet this septuagenarian was built to last for only fifty years. With every year it continues operating, it continues to threaten Tribal rights, the entire Great Lakes economy, and the communities that depend on the Great Lakes.

As the co-chairs of the Great Lakes Business Network—a coalition of over 200 businesses across the Great Lakes region—we work every day with the businesses and people who would lose their livelihoods if Line 5 ruptures. 

We watched Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer use the full weight of her authority to protect our way of life in 2020. She revoked Enbridge's easement, and Enbridge now operates illegally while trying to pull federal courts into the fight rather than recognizing the state's rights. 

While Gov. Whitmer has made bold moves, Canada instead has made the risks considerably worse, and Biden sits idly on the sidelines. Canada invoked a never-before-used 1977 treaty to pressure the U.S. into keeping Line 5 operating well past its expiration date and has put a full-court press on the Biden administration and the courts. 

Biden's response? Silence. 

That silence is louder than the cries of the 150 Michigan families who lost their homes when Enbridge's Line 6B ruptured into the Kalamazoo River. It is louder than the calls of Michigan tribes to decommission Line 5 to protect their fishing rights. Louder than the Bad River Band having to fight to uphold their sovereignty from Enbridge’s ongoing conscious trespass. It is louder than Gov. Whitmer's legal actions to shut it down to prevent a Great Lakes catastrophe. 

And it is certainly louder than Canada's and Biden's promise to reduce fossil fuel dependence to fight climate change.

Biden's silence is particularly troubling because we have viable, meaningful alternatives to Line 5. In the short term, other modes of transportation can replace Line 5 oil and propane without job loss or extra costs at the pump (Enbridge's own expert estimated the increased gasoline prices if Line 5 shuts down will be only half a penny a gallon). In the long term, there will be less and less need for the oil and gas shipped by Line 5 as more clean energy sources come online.

Where we don't have alternatives is for the 20 percent of the world's freshwater that is held in the Great Lakes. We do not have alternatives to the $7 billion a year that the commercial, recreational, and Tribal fisheries of the Great Lakes contribute to the economy. We do not have alternatives for the 75,000 individuals who would lose their livelihoods should Line 5 rupture in the Straits of Mackinac.

President Biden needs to stand up. It's time to shut down Line 5.

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