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Opinion | Whitmer’s poor decision on Line 5 jeopardizes Michigan’s future

In a move that should infuriate most Michigan residents, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer chose to revoke an essential permit for Enbridge Inc.’s Line 5, jeopardizing the flow of 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids per day that serve Michigan and fuel a large portion of the regional economy. By playing politics with this critical fuel pipeline, Governor Whitmer has dealt what could be a powerful setback to Michigan consumers and to the state’s chances for emerging stronger in the wake of the pandemic.

Political posturing aside, the renewal of the nearly 70-year-old permit for Line 5 should have been a slam dunk. The pipeline, which runs beneath Lake Michigan, transporting fuel from Wisconsin to Ontario, has been a model of safety during its lifetime. Just as important, it generates more than $5 billion in economic activity annually in southeast Michigan and Ohio, supplies more than half the state’s demand for propane, and has helped meet a growing appetite in the region for light crude oil. Nonetheless, under Whitmer’s order, its owner, Enbridge, will be forced to shut down the pipeline by May 12, 2021.

In its notice revoking the Line 5 permit, the Whitmer administration cites a “violation of the public trust doctrine” by Enbridge. But just consider the many benefits Line 5 has provided— and continues to provide - for Michigan and the Great Lakes economy.

Greg Markkanen

Michigan consumers rely on propane for daily life, with Line 5 delivering most of that fuel. The pipeline meets nearly two-thirds of propane demand in the Upper Peninsula and more than half of statewide propane demand. The pipeline also delivers vast quantities of oil to area refineries where it is converted to products like gasoline, jet fuel, and other critical products used by industry and consumers alike. About 30 percent of the crude oil that travels along Line 5 stays right here in Michigan. If the pipeline shuts down under Whitmer’s order, Michigan consumers lose access to about 56,000 barrels of crude oil and 15,000 barrels of propane daily.

As Rich Studley, president of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce explains, “The governor’s actions to shut down Line 5 will trigger a propane shortage in the Upper Peninsula; 300,000 Michiganders live in the Upper Peninsula and depend on propane to heat their homes.”

Losing access to fuel supplies isn’t just a big deal for the economy. It’s also a blow to the environment. No Line 5 means an additional 2,000 trucks or 800 rail cars each day to carry the same energy as the pipeline, creating unnecessary emissions and clogging roadways. It also means losing the safest possible transport option for fuel — a pipeline — which will be replaced by more dangerous options. What’s more, the transition from coal to natural gas made possible by Line 5 helped Michigan cut carbon dioxide emissions by more than 25 percent between 2007 and 2017 and will continue to be a key tool in fighting climate change.

There’s certainly much to lose from endangering Line 5. More than $1 billion has flowed to Michigan’s state and local parks, waterways, trails and nature preserves throughout all 83 counties because of the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, a pool of money funded by the Michigan oil and gas industry. Local communities will also lose out on at least some of the $60 million in property tax now paid annually by Enbridge.

Electricity customers in Michigan, who already pay more than 20 percent above the national average for power, will likely pay even more if low-cost natural gas supplies stop flowing from Line 5. That includes small businesses, who “would be among the first to suffer the consequences of such a short-sighted action” by Governor Whitmer, according to Charles Owens, Michigan director of the National Federation of Independent Business.

The folly of Governor Whitmer’s decision to block a safe and highly productive pipeline hasn’t gone unnoticed, with The Detroit News opining that “continuing to fight this sensible solution prolongs the timeframe and increases the risk to the Great Lakes.” As former Michigan Lt. Governor and current Small Business Association of Michigan President Brian Calley adds, “The time for fighting about the Tunnel project needs to be over.”

Governor Whitmer has made her choice for now, but it’s not too late for cooler heads to prevail and for her to reverse this decision. Line 5 is critical to Michigan’s future and every effort should be made by responsible leaders to ensure that it continues to serve our economy and Michigan families for decades to come.

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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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