Opinion | Whitmer’s legacy will be affected by Line 5. It's time for her decision.

Mike Shriberg

Mike Shriberg, Ph.D., is the regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation's Great Lakes Regional Center and a lecturer at the University of Michigan.  He was previously appointed by former Governor Snyder to serve on Michigan’s Pipeline Safety Advisory Board.

As a candidate, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer railed against former Governor Snyder’s attempt to ink a deal that left Line 5 in place for an indefinite period.

“These steps are a handful of belated half-measures that put far too much faith in a company that has consistently misled the public. This isn’t enough, and for the sake of the one million jobs that depend on the health of our Great Lakes, we must do everything in our power to protect them. That is why as Governor, I will immediately file to enjoin the easement and begin the legal process to decommission Line 5, and anything short of that is insincere.”

Unfortunately, Whitmer has fallen into the trap of taking “belated half-measures” with her indecision and failure to follow through by revoking Enbridge’s easement. Enbridge has continued to mislead the public and show why it cannot be trusted, which is a key reason why my organization was the first to raise the issue of Line 5’s future publicly. The pipeline is showing its age and vulnerability, including at least two more strikes from maritime objects, and it’s clear that the Great Lakes are at great and immediate risk.

Whitmer has shown she’s unafraid to take strong actions even in the face of unrelenting, misguided resistance. Her leadership during this pandemic has been exemplary – she’s stood strong in the face of misogynistic and vitriolic attacks. She has my personal and professional respect for her strength of character, leadership and strong, science-based decision-making.

Yet, on Line 5, she is hesitant.

This case is clear and straightforward. According to recent reports, the governor has the internal document that outlines easement violations, which surely include violating “due care” provisions and provide more than ample legal justification for action.

The fiscal and economic implications should not be a cause for major concern. The state’s analysis shows Line 5 supplies marginal amounts of energy to Michigan and, with proper planning, alternatives can be utilized. This coincides with an independent analysis from London Economics International, an Enbridge-funded alternatives analysis and recent data that the recent Line 5 shutdown had no impact on energy prices and availability.

There are powerful interests lobbying against decommissioning Line 5, including business and elements of the labor communities aligned with the fossil fuel industry. It also includes leadership in the state Legislature – Enbridge has spent heavily on lobbying and PR, and it shows.

Governor Whitmer’s political legacy will be decided in part by Line 5. The legal underbrush has largely been cleared and the time for studies has passed – it’s now time for a decision. Whitmer challenged the sincerity of former Governor Snyder because of his lack of action. Was she sincere in saying that she’s putting the interests of the Great Lakes, the recreational tourism economy, our drinking water and our very way of life above the interests of a powerful foreign corporation?

We’ve seen that Governor Whitmer has nerves of steel, strong decision-making skills and demonstrates great leadership – it’s time to apply that approach to Line 5 by following through on her promise to decommission it.  Anything less – “half-measures” as she called them – would be insincere.

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leonard page
Thu, 09/03/2020 - 5:53pm

Michigan has no legal or moral duty to serve as a high risk shortcut to get western canada's oil products to Sarnia for that market and for export. Well over 90% of the 540,000 barrels pumped each day thru the straits and hundreds of Michigan water bodies are delivered to Sarnia. The proposed tunnel deal permits the 67 year old twin pipelines to remain in the open waters of the Straits until the indefinite tunnel project is completed. Three anchor drags have impacted line 5 since April 1, 2018. And if a tunnel is ever completed, 20% of the time the tunnel segment will have highly explosive propane and butane running thru it . a leak inside the tunnel would create the world's largest pipebomb connecting St. Ignace and Mackinaw City. Why take any risk of any kind for a project which has almost no Michigan benefits?

Tue, 09/08/2020 - 4:37pm

Risk is not only the severity of the potential outcome; it includes frequency of situation/conditions that could cause such an event, it is probability of each possible outcome of an event, and what is the effect of design/practices to prevent or mitigate the event.
You and others have yet to identify what will cause the most extreme event, what is the frequency of exposure to such a cause, and why/how the tunnel will not prevent such a situation or mitigate your worst possible outcome from such a situation.
The people opposed to the #5 pipeline are asking the wrong questions. They should be asking how does Enbridge and how does the State ensure that effective design/construction methods are applied to prevent the risks of most concern and are properly maintained, how proper operating practices are followed.
Those opposed to the pipeline seem by only being willing to accept shutting down the pipeline create an opposition, which includes those who philosophically are oppose to laws/rules that prevent people and business to conduct themselves in a responsible manner, those who are concerned with loss of benefits that will/maybe lost to the closing of the pipeline, those who believe that science and technology should be allowed to be used appropriately and not simply denied for political convenience.

Diane Martin-Brodak
Thu, 09/03/2020 - 8:40pm

Governor do the right thing for our state...shut line 5 down and keep our Great Lakes safe.

Margaret Anne C...
Fri, 09/04/2020 - 10:14am

I am also disappointed that Line 5 hasn’t been shut down, but I think your piece is a bit myopic.
It is absolutely true that both Whitmer & Nessel promised to shut down Line 5 when They took office. In a piece in “Great Lakes Now,” https://www.greatlakesnow.org/2020/07/whitmer-michigan-dilemma-line-5-no... author Gary Wilson wrote:
“ Nessel has been true to her word, turning to the courts at every possible opportunity for relief on Line 5. When she petitioned a court last week to temporarily shut Line 5 down, it was her third attempt to intervene on the issue.

She has tried and failed to get a court to invalidate the agreement between Michigan and Enbridge on Line 5’s replacement, a pipeline in a tunnel. She also has a public nuisance lawsuit pending to shut the pipeline down.
Unlike Nessel, Whitmer doesn’t want to turn to the courts to resolve the Line 5 issue.
In a June 2019 interview with Great Lakes Now, Whitmer said protracted litigation without the tunnel or another alternative would be the ‘worst case scenario’.”
What isn’t being discussed is that Dana Nessel is the Attorney General & it is not only within her purview, but it is her job to bring lawsuits on behalf of the State of Michigan. Whitmer, on the contrary, is a member of the EXECUTIVE branch of government. It is her job to support Nessel, & if you read the entire article above, it’s clear she does, but it is not her job to file lawsuits OR to legislate.
Please try talking about what she HAS DONE to try & get Line 5 OUT. Enbridge, a corporation, has an easement-& they have had that easement, since 1953. Whitmer has bent over backwards trying to negotiate with the company, has commissioned reports from the DNR to attempt to force them out, & she was ready to send them packing when the State prevailed in a lawsuit, only to have it overturned.
I, too, respect this governor as a leader for our State, as a human being, as someone who fearlessly stood up to the sociopath who sits in our Whitehouse, who led other governors in helping states get what we all needed, who retained her dignity rather than replying to taunts & sexist name calling women in power have to put up with whenever we are allowed into the rooms where the important conversations are happening (I know, I’m a litigation attorney & 87% of my colleagues are men-some amazing people, some mysoginists who act-well, I don’t need to explain), & she has helped to keep Michigan a State that, against all odds, is recovering from the pandemic, AND, is seeing cooperation between law enforcement, Detroit’s Mayor, & protestors of systemic racism in law enforcement. The city of the 1967 riots has become an example for the Country, & Trump’s goading hasn’t pushed protestors or law enforcement into turning on each other.
Let’s give our governor & attorney general a little bit more time. They’ve been in office for eight months. After everything they’ve done for the citizens of Michigan, don’t you think they deserve that from us before we decide what the governor’s legacy is going to be?
Thank you for listening. Respectfully-Maggie Cotant, JD, Berkley, Michigan

Latricia Rentsch
Sat, 09/05/2020 - 12:38am

I agree whole heartedly! I'm shocked at what politicians say to get into office and once there they cave! I guess Nestle water coke Pepsi and tourism will love the Great Lakes when they are laden with chemical anti dispersants and crude oil and dead fish. I had faith in Governor Whitmer until she silenced the state health department on 14 covid19 outbreaks in universities and K12 schools! I dont trust in anyone anymore we are all done for, sad!

Mon, 09/07/2020 - 9:26pm

Just put the issue on the ballot. We the People will shut down Line 5 immediately.