January 29, 2022

It’s the planet, stupid!

Guest Opinion
By Barbara Stamiris | Dec. 11, 2021

Under 50? “It’s the economy, Stupid!” was Clinton’s campaign mantra. 

In 2021, “It’s the planet, Stupid!” 

Today, young climate activists carry signs lamenting “There is no planet B!” As climate disasters fill the nightly news, frustration grows. A livable planet tomorrow requires action today. At the COP26 Climate Summit, world leaders made strong statements and commitments, but actions are what count. 

Prime Minister Trudeau said, “Climate action can’t wait,” but he acted for big oil when he invoked a 1977 US-Canada treaty supporting Enbridge Line 5 in the Great Lakes. If upheld, the treaty would keep Canadian oil tunneling through the planet’s largest freshwater system for 99 more years during a climate crisis that has half the U.S. in drought. While 40 million face water restrictions in the West, the drinking water of 40 million is at risk around the Great Lakes. Michigan’s Line 5 has now become a national issue.

Line 5 has carried Canadian oil to export since 1953 by cutting through the US. Canada blocked oil pipelines in its own country (for environmental reasons!), so it uses the Mackinac Straits to move its oil east. At the 2018 Anchor-Strike Hearing, the Straits were called the worst place in the nation for an oil pipeline. 

Twenty percent of the planet’s freshwater is at risk in the Great Lakes, yet Enbridge self-interest keeps Line 5 operating well beyond its 50-year lifetime. Line 5 earns Enbridge almost $2 million a day. When Michigan elected Gov. Whitmer, she made her “Shut Down Line 5” pledge an order in 2020. 

Last November, Gov. Whitmer revoked the Easement for Line 5, calling it “an unacceptable risk” to the Great Lakes. She gave Enbridge six months to comply, but Enbridge defied the shutdown order and is still operating Line 5 — illegally. Enbridge is suing Michigan to keep old Line 5 operating until the new one in a tunnel is ready — now 2028, at the earliest. According to the agreement with former Michigan Gov. Snyder, Michigan would own the tunnel and lease it to Enbridge for 99 more years.

Why would anyone build a tunnel for a 4-mile segment of a 645-mile pipeline — putting one new link into an old chain that has leaked 33 times on land? Perhaps the answer is that Enbridge doesn’t intend to build a tunnel; it is just another way to keep regulators deliberating for years at taxpayer expense while the company continues to earn billions. The tunnel agreement allows Enbridge to back out without penalty, and no money is allocated for a tunnel in its 2020 SEC 10K filing intended for such projects. 

Worse than being duped by a tunnel proposal is the possibility that Enbridge really will build a tunnel directly below the still-operating Line 5. Tunnel expert Brian O’Mara criticized the cost-cutting Enbridge plan. Instead of taking the standard number of boring samples, Enbridge skimped. The unconsolidated bottomlands are prone to sinkholes. The low center of this tunnel’s design increases the risk of an explosion, like that which occurred in a Detroit tunnel in 1971. There is simply no margin for error with the Line 5 tunnel.

Almost 70, Line 5 is dangerously frail. It has been damaged by anchor strikes, is missing safety coatings, is subject to bending stresses, is encrusted with mussels, and requires 200 remedial supports since its bottomlands washed away. These supports suspend the pipeline, making it more vulnerable to anchor strikes. Line 5 can’t survive another decade, especially if a massive tunnel is bored below it — while it still carries oil. 

The United States uses only about 7 percent of Line 5’s oil, yet bears the costs while Enbride reaps the benefits. Enbridge lacks adequate insurance for a Great Lakes accident because Enbridge Inc. denies responsibility for Enbridge Energy. It cost Enbridge $1.2 billion to clean up 40 miles of the Kalamazoo River, yet 700 miles of shoreline is at risk in the Great Lakes.

Enbridge advertising attempts to convince Michigan it needs the tunnel for its jobs, when decommissioning would provide more. Enbridge also claims that without Line 5, propane and gasoline prices would soar, but there is no correlation. Gasoline and propane prices, after all, are rising today while Line 5 operates. When Line-5 was shut down for repair in 2020, an engineering study showed that gasoline prices remained unaffected. 

Michigan’s Line 5 battle escalated when Canada intervened. Section V of the 1977 treaty permits a shut down of the pipeline for safety or environmental reasons — exactly what Whitmer is seeking. Will care for the planet transcend politics and pipelines? President Biden has to choose: to act or to wait. Shut down Line 5 now, or wait. Wait for the Army Corps review of a tunnel? Wait till gas prices come down?  Wait till an oil slick coats the water? 

It’s water that needs protection today; not pipelines and profits. Ask any young person. The answer: “It’s the planet, stupid!”

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