Pipeline secrecy bill threatens Great Lakes, prevents accountability

The Great Lakes are Michigan’s most valuable natural resource and protecting them should be a top priority. Unfortunately, the Michigan Legislature is currently considering a bill that undermines crucial accountability measures for our state’s energy infrastructure.

House Bill 4540 would allow energy companies to conceal important information about oil and gas pipelines from the public and skirt state transparency laws. As written, the bill creates an unprecedented blanket exemption from public disclosure that would prevent Michigan stakeholders and landowners from accessing a broad array of information on pipelines and other energy infrastructure, including safety and inspection records, data on pipeline corrosion and leaks, and conditions of wells.

At a time when trust in our government’s ability to protect public health and safety is notoriously low, this bill would be a major step in the wrong direction. In light of the ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michiganders deserve more transparency not less access to information that can have public health impacts.

The public has a right to know about basic safety information for the pipelines and other infrastructure that run through our communities and pose a risk for the clean water on which we depend. This bill would severely undermine the critical transparency and accountability measures that are currently available to Michigan citizens.

Michiganders know too well what is at stake.

Just six years ago, a corroded pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy failed and spilled more than one million gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River, polluting 38 miles of the river and causing tens of millions of dollars in damage. And more recently, the public’s attention has been gripped by the 63-year-old pipeline transporting 23 million gallons of oil every day below the Straits of Mackinac—a place where the risks of a spill are extremely high due to the volatile currents and difficulty containing the spill in inclement weather. Without question, a pipeline break in an area like the Straits of Mackinac would be devastating to our Great Lakes way of life, as well as our tourism, fishing and recreation industries.

Disclosure policies, like Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act, enable public scrutiny and hold energy companies accountable for the quality and maintenance of their infrastructure. Disclosure also provides Michiganders directly impacted by energy infrastructure, such as landowners, the information they need to gauge what dangers exist and to protect their private property and their communities.

The Governor’s Petroleum Pipeline Task Force recently highlighted the important role played by transparency:

“The information and assurances provided by Enbridge to date do not resolve outstanding concerns about the Straits Pipelines and their future operation. With so much at stake neither the State nor the public has the information needed to independently validate Enbridge’s conclusions, and to determine whether Enbridge’s present and intended future operation of the Straits Pipeline is consistent with its legal obligations under the Easement.”

Unfortunately, as currently written, HB 4540 would only exacerbate this problem by taking even more of this information out of public access.

As steward of one-fifth of the world’s fresh surface water, Michigan should be leading the way to ensure the safety of this critical resource. That safety starts with open and honest government oversight. Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act promotes public scrutiny and helps hold energy companies accountable for the quality, safety and security of their pipelines within our communities. These measures have the potential to prevent future disasters from devastating our Great Lakes, rivers and streams.

The bill sponsor has raised concerns on the need to factor security and safety into decisions about public disclosure of information on energy infrastructure. However those concerns are already covered by federal and state provisions. Despite this, there has been no rationale put forth by the bill’s sponsor about why Michigan should stand alone and in excess of federal law in restricting access to information about energy infrastructure.

I urge the Michigan Legislature to protect Michigan’s air, land and water and Michiganders’ right to know and vote NO on House Bill 4540. And I call on Gov. Snyder to protect our natural resources and support government transparency by opposing this plan.

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.

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Tue, 01/26/2016 - 7:29am
Thank you Phil.
Stephen Cain
Tue, 01/26/2016 - 9:08am
Roos' column is alarming, but we need to know more. Who is the sponsor? Is it just a single legislator with a bug up his or her nether region, or is it a serious piece of legislation? Where is it in the legislative pipeline? If I was still reporting, I would ask the legislator who he had talked to about the situation, whether they had requested the bill, who helped him write it. Then I would call the folks (pipeline companies) who talked to him and ask them about what they saw as the problem they were trying to remedy. Do they have an instances where the release of the type of information they are trying to block has damaged the public interest, etc.
Tue, 01/26/2016 - 9:48am
The bill's original sponsor is Rep/ Kurt Heise of Plymouth. There are actually many sponsors including the Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, Andrea LaFontaine. This is a glaring example of a Canadian Corporation (Enbridge) getting what they want. All of the sponsors are Republican. If you care about the Great Lakes google HB 4540 to learn more about the sponsors and call them to ask them why we need a law to keep hidden secrets that might lead to a disaster.
Tue, 01/26/2016 - 5:39pm
Kurt Heise (primary sponsor) Mike Callton, Andrea LaFontaine, Lisa Lyons, David Maturen, Jason Sheppard, Jon Bumstead, Paul Muxlow, Eric Leutheuser, Bruce Rendon, Rick Outman, Ed McBroom - I'm most especially looking at you. Thanks to The Center for Michigan and Bridge Magazine for the article. Here's the text of House Bill 4540: http://www.legislature.mi.gov/(S(lsa5lwa51tnb2rksxylwghp4))/mileg.aspx?page=getObject&objectName=2015-HB-4540
Michael Raine
Wed, 01/27/2016 - 9:01am
Please forward my displeasure to the bill sponsors. This nonsense is not justified. We need total disclosure when handling hazardous products.
Trish P.
Fri, 08/26/2016 - 8:40am
Thanks for the info Andy. Time for phone calls, e-mails, tweets and letters!
Michael Crockford
Mon, 08/29/2016 - 7:54am
The posted link does not work?
Tue, 01/26/2016 - 10:02am
In light of recent and past history..critical infrastructure is not this administrations strong suit. Greater transparency is called for, and healthier for all, not less. I agree with Stevens sound comments.
Sun, 01/31/2016 - 7:20pm
The Hijacking and Thief of Michigan's water source. Here are the criminals taking away our water in Michigan: Kurt Heise, District 20 (Primary Sponsor) Mike Callton, District 87 (Sponsor) Andrea Lafontaine, District 32 (Sponsor) Lisa Posthumus Lyons, District 86 (Sponsor) David Maturen, District 63 (Sponsor) Jason Sheppard, District 56 (Sponsor) Jon Bumstead, District 100 (Sponsor) Paul Muxlow, District 83 (Sponsor) Eric Leutheuser, District 58 (Sponsor) Bruce Rendon, District 103 (Sponsor) Rick Outman, District 70 (Sponsor) Ed McBroom, District 108 (Sponsor)
Steve Ramon
Mon, 02/01/2016 - 12:13pm
This is down right criminal, anyone who is involved with the passing of this bill needs to be removed from office! Obviously they are getting something in return for selling out the people of Mochigan!
Sat, 08/13/2016 - 5:08pm
Are these people getting some kind of pay off or what. Cant believe we can't get this pipeline 5 shut down . It is. a travesty. What if somethings leaks in the winter with all that ice. Another example of our government working for us!!!
Sun, 09/11/2016 - 11:59am
I also would like to know who is behind House Bill 4540. Our Great Lakes need to be protected and the citizens of Michigan have a right to transparency from companies who have the potential to pollute our waterways.
Tue, 01/26/2016 - 9:59am
Information is the greatest tool "We the People" have. From electing public officials to Amber Alerts information, is the most important tool that we have to keep our elected officials honest! The name of the sponsor of this bill must become public and, those that support it! We need to remember that elected officials work for us not the other way around and, if you are not doing your job representing the good of the people, we can always fire them by not re-electing them. Every person that lives in Michigan sould read this article and immediately start shouting as loudly as possible, ENOUGH!
Tue, 01/26/2016 - 12:38pm
Krickett, The information that you are asking for IS readily available on the Michigan Legislatures Website (along with the bill's status in the legislative process).
Sue Sue
Tue, 01/26/2016 - 10:06am
Ok, isn't this guy a marketing guy for packaged goods or something? Now he is also a conservation expert? Everyone tries to be an expert don't they?
Tue, 01/26/2016 - 2:25pm
He made no such claim. He appears to be concerned and informed, and he's making an effort to inform others and communicate his concerns to our government. Do you really object to that? If so, what would you rather see?
Sue Sue
Sun, 01/31/2016 - 8:23pm
He is writing an opinion piece with political jabs and condemnations without full proof, and represents a outsider's opinion without any government or energy experience, so yes, one is can question his credentials. First, if our current situation is such a mess, why would you want the government to have more responsibility for monitoring anything. Such a hypocritical argument. I do think for national security reasons, that no one should be able to FOIA this information. Makes sense. I know very little about this bill but know that if we are following the EPA standards that most other states do, than it is probably fair.
Mon, 08/15/2016 - 8:14am
Not having 'government experience' is a actually a plus.
Sun, 08/28/2016 - 4:07pm
Sue Sue Here you say he has no right to put forth his opinion and then you say you do not know much about this bill but still you are putting your thoughts out there. Snyder and his crimials along with the EPA did such a great job overlooking the Flint water deal. The children of Flint surely thank them
Sun, 09/11/2016 - 4:21pm
Wait...national security? What is it that you think FOIA is for? It is for transparency and to keep people apprised of situations that affect them. People have every right to FOIA documents. Our state legislators could care less about their people and their natural resources. They have to be held accountable. Our governor certainly didn't care that he was poisoning a hundred thousand people in Flint and he certainly doesn't care whe the he endangers our Great Lakes. But luckily the people of Michigan do.
Tom Novak
Fri, 12/23/2016 - 10:11pm

National Security?? The location of the pipelines are well known. There are maps of the routes on line.On land the pipes are underground presumedly fairly deep.Terrorists are less of a threat than politicians taking bribes from pipeline companies so they can neglect monitoring and regular maintenance costs.

Tue, 01/26/2016 - 3:47pm
Read his bio under his picture Sue Sue. Besides, you don't have to be a conservation expert to understand that lack of transparency is harmful to public knowledge, one of the foundations of democracy. Just ask yourself a simple question regarding this bill, or any other: "Who benefits the most from its passage?" You don't have to be an expert to engage in critical thought. In this case, the people of Michigan are the clear losers.
Sun, 01/31/2016 - 7:25am
We should ALL be experts on how our legislature represents us. And he does make sense in this regard.
Sue Sue
Sun, 01/31/2016 - 8:25pm
Of course he does because you support this letter written (outlined) by some lobbying group. Group think is dangerous when you are member of the mutual admiration club.
Fri, 09/02/2016 - 9:31am
You could read the legislation as a link was posted above, I'm sure the "double think" wont effect some one as smart as you.I hope your check from the oil company gets there soon.
Tue, 01/26/2016 - 6:51pm
Thank you, Phil. We also have to pay attention to the Consolidated Animal Feeding Operations that have been and are being proposed close to the Great Lakes. In particular, the one proposed in Bayfield Co. on a site 8 miles from Lake Superior on a watershed that drains into the Lake.
Tue, 01/26/2016 - 11:06pm
I do recall, back in the 90s when OSHA and EPA implemented their rules on process safety management of highly hazardous chemicals that the EPA wanted the companies to post all their information about the hazards, risks [how the hazards could be released] online. This was prior to the degree of terrorism we have today. The companies were resistant because they were concern with how this could be used by potential terrorists, the EPA didn't feel that was a valid reason not to post. What do you think? I raise this point because after including other agencies in the discussion the EPA relented and the issue of public disclosure was worked out with a structured means of access for the public and agencies, after nearly 20 years it seems to have proven to be an effective approach. Rather than claim all limits on publication information as being a thread to accountability and the natural resources, I would encourage you to identify the issues that are of concern and why and ask Enbridge to propose how they would address those concerns. That could open a conversation that could lead to an effective resolution to the concerns. I am a strong believer in accountability, effective accountability is achieved with disciplined focus.
Wed, 01/27/2016 - 11:53pm
Thank you Duane. Well written.
Thu, 01/28/2016 - 6:45pm
The Enbridge “Line 5” is a well-known disaster waiting to happen. (Enbridge is the fabulous group that brought you the Kalamazoo River oil spill in 2010.) Built in 1953, Line 5 never went through the permitting process required of pipelines today. Furthermore, in 2014 Enbridge admitted to violating the Straits of Mackinac Pipeline Easement by not installing the required anchoring structures every 75 feet, which are necessary to maintain stability in case of strong storms (as frequently occur in the Straits of Mackinac.) The US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has initiated 28 enforcement actions against Embridge in the last decade alone. When Line 5 was constructed, Michigan retained the right to terminate the easement and order the pipeline removed if Embridge failed to meet all stated conditions. We are within our rights to decommission this pipeline now, and yet our administration and legislature are more interested in making it so that when the pipeline does fail, no one will be accountable. They have no interest in making it right. It’s turning into a very common refrain these days. #CleanWaterMI
Thu, 01/28/2016 - 11:54pm
Jenny, I understand how much history shapes your opinion of Enbridge. The incidents are real and represent their past practices. The points you make about what is expected today [anchoring] are questions Enbridge should be addressing. I would like to hear what Enbridge has learned from history and how they are applying those lessons today. Experience has shown that a well planned and executed risk management process significantly reduces or mitigates the risks and is an effective tool for building community confidence in the company, their employees, and operations. I would encourage those in the community to request conversations with Enbridge to learn how they assess risk and address it. Just as I would encourage Enbridge to reach out to the community to learn their concerns, explain how Enbridge does risk management, demonstrate their process by applying it to the community concerns. A conversation is is more likely to lead to collaboration and improvement of the situation. Confrontation creates barriers between parties and to improving the situation.
Sat, 01/30/2016 - 9:59am
Experience has shown that Duane is quite possibly a Troll for the pipeline concern. I would highly recommend that his commentary here be judged as such. Unless of course you want the Pure Michigan ads on TV to feature the beautiful oil soaked shores of our great state.
Sat, 01/30/2016 - 4:26pm
Jay, I am curious what experience you have had that would lead you to this conclusion. I have to disappoint you, I have no association with Enbridge, my experience has been with more severe settings and my former employer taught me how to do risk assessments a long time ago. If you haven't noticed I recommend that there are existing OSHA/EPA regulations that could provide a good starting point for addressing the pipeline issue. If you want to better understand the approach I recommend you review (Mi)OSHA 1910.119. It was developed and proposed by a group of chemical manufacturers back in the early 90s and adopted a few years later. EPA used that to develop their equivalent regulations. You might consider contacting MiOSHA to verify that the regulations exist and how they might apply. I would also encourage you to review the Preamble to the regulation (1910.119). You may want to consider that there are people online that simply have some knowledge and experiences they simply want to share for others to use. They may not fall inline with your agenda, but they may be a good resource for open discussions with broad participation. I wonder if you had read my comments, they have been about doing a risk assessment that included members of the public. You might be surprised that the regulations I mention were developed and proposed to OSHA by some very large chemical manufactures to share what they had learned in managing highly hazardous chemicals so others could use what they had learned. All I offer is a different perspective that may lead to collaboration in addressing the pipeline sooner rather than confrontation that takes years and takes it through the courts. If you have questions or particular doubts simply ask and I will answer. I would encourage all parties to tamp down the emotions and have conversations about concerns and how to address them. A disciplined risk assessment is an effective tool for achieving that.
Sun, 01/31/2016 - 7:26pm
Word salad. Please pass the dressing.
Mon, 02/01/2016 - 5:09pm
Mary, Ask a question to see if there is anything with flavor or nutrition. One of my disappointments in these conversations is that when in doubt people don't challenge or questions what is being said, If a person feels what they say is worth the time someone takes to rad it then they should be willing to address follow-up questions. The greatest risk to learning is to assume. Nuch better to ask and listen/question.
Wed, 09/07/2016 - 4:29am
The purpose of the weights have nothing to due with storms and currents. The fact that oil is lighter than water , the weights are to keep the pipe from floating up. It is too bad that both sides of this argument are not really well informed as to pipeline construction procedures. Let's just eliminate all pipelines and go back to riding horses and bikes. Heat your home with wood and coal. Cook your meals on a wood stove. I am eighty three years old and remember those days. I am also a retired pipeliner and not only worked the construction end but was also a construction inspector. Considering the thousands of miles of pipelines in the world I believe they are they safest way to transport petroleum products. Why are we not concerned by 43,000 folks killed in auto accidents every year. Think of the lives we could save by riding horses and bikes.......
Wed, 01/27/2016 - 2:04am
As a resident, registered voter and frequent visitor of the Upper Penninsula of Michigan I would be throughly disgusted if anything happened to the Straits of Mackinac, especially if the Michigan Government knowingly covered up corruption and criminal activity for the sake of greed. If you our ELECTED officials dont want to do your jobs, the jobs we elected you to do we the people of Michigan will find someone who will. The oil pipeline running the length of the Straits are old and need to be replaced with new pipes. Yes its expensive and yes its hard work, but in the end an oil spill covering the almsot 5 miles would be devastating to the entire state. Both Lake Michigan and Lake Huron would be seriously effected. Fix the problem, dont be the problem.
Glenn Warners
Wed, 01/27/2016 - 7:49am
Well Said ! This should be on the news every day.
Wed, 01/27/2016 - 9:36am
It's time to impeach all the Republlicans in the House in Michigan!!! They have done nothing to help the people of Michigan but have everything in their power help the rich and the corporations. Impeach or vote them out of office. CONTACT your Representative NOW
Wed, 01/27/2016 - 9:46am
Please clarify for me; On January 25 a change was made. At least it appears that way. Was the change that was made on January 25 to the bill a good thing or a bad thing in terms of making information available to the public?
Wed, 01/27/2016 - 10:16am
You should post the contact information for local legislators so everyone can flood them with emails and phone calls.
John Kaeckmeister
Wed, 01/27/2016 - 10:55am
At all cost we must protect our water supply .we do not need a oil leak ever.vote no house bull 4540.
Wed, 01/27/2016 - 5:40pm
I am so sick and tired of our Legislature doing things behind closed doors, behind the peoples backs (and inserting lethal knives) and on the end of other bills that I could scream. Whatever happened to "of the people, by the people and FOR THE PEOPLE"? It is a pretty sad state of affairs.
Wed, 01/27/2016 - 6:51pm
I dispute your first line in this article. The great lakes are not Michigan's greats resource. We in Wisconsin rather feel like we have an interest in a couple of them too. Canada might have something to say too. The lakes are a natural treasure a Midwest resource.
Sat, 01/30/2016 - 3:36pm
Keith, the intent was not to imply ownership of the Great Lakes, but to point out that they ARE Michigan's greatest resource. They also are willingly shared with Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, as well as with Ontario. As neighbors we are co-responsible, mutual stewards of these great repositories of fresh water.
Sun, 01/31/2016 - 7:33am
I agree that Wisconsin, Canada and all other Great Lakes states have a vested interest in keeping them pure. But that does not change the fact that the Great Lakes are Michigan's greatest resource. They are also the greatest resource for Wisconsin as well. We can share that claim.
Roger Crosthwaite
Thu, 01/28/2016 - 10:06am
I'm tired of these big corporations finding ways to pass bills so the public are in the dark. Furthermore look at what the paper mills did to the rivers in Michigan.I was shocked to know their are pipes that old under the water of the straits of Michigan.These pipes should be held at the highest possible standards to ensure the safety of leakage from the Great Lakes period.At what ever the cost to the company.I'm sure a cleanup cost would be far more.
Howard Cross
Thu, 01/28/2016 - 3:47pm
The GOP is trying to do it again and will do anything to serve their corporate masters. Vote them out and let's have a real bipartisan state legislature and governor.
Joan kuipers
Thu, 01/28/2016 - 8:06pm
Thu, 01/28/2016 - 11:31pm
This is a no brainer!