Larry Bell is founder of Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo and co-chair of the Great Lakes Business Network.
The past week, more than ever, Enbridge has shown Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and her administration that Line 5 can no longer remain in our Great Lakes and that Enbridge lacks the required safety management culture to continue the operation of Line 5 in our waters.
Gov. Whitmer has shown strong leadership in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now she needs to show similar resolve in the face of a potential catastrophic oil spill from Line 5: Whitmer must act to shut down the Line 5 pipeline.
During the 2010 Enbridge oil spill, which covered the Kalamazoo River in oil for nearly 40 miles, Bell’s Brewery had a front row seat into the underbelly of Enbridge’s behavior as a corporation. In the events leading up to that spill and in their response, they showed a complete disregard for the communities they impact. They failed to follow basic safety protocols, tried to underplay impacts, disregarded local oversight, were willfully unprepared for the disaster they caused, and they had a total disregard for area businesses impacted by their failure as a company.
Were line 5 to rupture below the surface of Lake Michigan, in addition to losing our fresh drinking water and basic way-of-life, thousands of Northern Michigan businesses could be lost. In 2017 alone, Michigan had over 200,000 jobs directly supported by tourism, most of which are generated in this exact location. Travelers to Michigan spent $24.7 billion while visiting our Great Lakes State, generating $2.7 billion in state and local taxes.
Businesses across all sectors, including much of the craft beer community, rely on the clean, safe water from the Great Lakes. A line 5 failure could decimate that revenue and cut entire communities off from basic needs, including safe drinking water.
After all, would you be heading north with the family for a summer vacation if the beaches were awash in crude oil and the lake breeze carried the odor of the industrial solvents used to make tar sand oils pumpable? Of course not.
The new revelations that Enbridge has once again decided to forgo safety, and continue the operation of Line 5 in the face of unknown forces causing damage to line 5 has shown, without a doubt, that the culture within this company has not changed in the 10 years since the 2010 spill.
The same day Enbridge revealed this damage, they were also agreeing to pay a $6.7 million fine to the EPA for failing to meet safety requirements that are part of the settlement following the 2010 spill. Enbridge’s proposed tunnel is not a “solution” to the immediate risk posed by continuing operation of Line 5 in this location.
Enbridge’s false claim that this project could be completed by 2024 is their last-ditch effort to keep Line 5 running for as long as possible. The reality is that a project like they are proposing needs incredible review and consideration and will face major legal challenges. In Minnesota, where they are requesting a rebuild of Line 3, it has been seven years of permitting and legal challenges and they still face hurdles before they can consider construction.
Michigan can’t wait four years, let alone another decade. Along with my colleagues in the Great Lakes Business Network, we applaud the recent strong action of attorney general and her successful requests for a temporary shut down of the pipeline. We are now calling on Gov. Whitmer to use her full authority to join the attorney general in her lawsuit to revoke the Enbridge easement. Yet another near miss on Line 5 and Enbridge’s total disregard for our state’s authority, as well as not meeting federal safety requirements, should be the last wake-up call needed for Gov. Whitmer to finally act on her duty to protect the citizens and business of this state by removing these pipelines from our freshwater.
If Gov. Whitmer does not act in this moment, it appears the only way Line 5 will be shut down is through a rupture.