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Governor vows to shut down oil pipeline in the Straits

Kaye LaFond




Line 5’s days may be numbered. 


Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced the twin pipelines running along the lakebed of the Straits of Mackinac must stop carrying oil and gas by May of 2021. 


The move comes from the Governor’s office and the Department of Natural Resources, who say the original agreement allowing a private company to operate a pipeline on public bottomlands no longer stands


“This is better than Christmas,” says Andrea Pierce, a member of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians and chair of the Anishinaabek Caucus in the state’s democratic party. (She founded the caucus, in large part, because of Line 5.)


Advocates like Pierce, alongside environmental groups and tribal leaders, have been fighting to halt Line 5 for years to avert an oil spill in the Great Lakes. 


If the state succeeds, the decision could be historic. “No one has ever shut down an operating oil pipeline like this—that’s been operating for years,” says Jim Lively, program director of Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities in Traverse City. “It’s never happened in the history of ever.” 


But many are unhappy with the announcement, including state lawmakers from across the aisle. In a press release, State Rep. Sara Cambensy (D-Marquette) calls the decision “a rogue move,” and “a political stunt.” Likewise, State Rep. Triston Cole (R- Mancelona) described the news as “frankly absurd, shocking and blatant disregard for northern Michigan.” 


The lawmakers say a Line 5 shutdown lacks legislative approval and fails to provide energy alternatives for Upper Peninsula residents who rely on propane supplied by Line 5. 


Attorney Bryan Newland, Chairman of the Bay Mills Indian Community, takes issue with this assessment. “They try to paint this dystopian picture that we’re going to be eating our young and burning our books to keep warm in the wintertime without this pipeline, which is just nonsense,” he says. 


A state task force weighed in on the question last April. Its report acknowledged a shutdown could bring steep price increases and identified “robust and diverse” alternatives to Line 5, including transporting propane by rail from Edmonton and by pipeline from neighboring states. 


However, the recent decision is based on the safety of the pipeline itself, according to the Governor’s press release. The state is revoking and terminating its agreement with Enbridge, originally established in 1953, because of the risk to the Great Lakes and the “persistent and incurable violations” by the company. 


For its part, Enbridge maintains its operations of Line 5 are safe, and says it will respond “through the legal process,” according to a company press release. 


Meanwhile, the company will continue to seek approval for its plan to put Line 5 in a tunnel beneath the Straits.


The plan is under review by numerous state and federal agencies, and a concern for many Great Lakes advocates. 


“We’ll pick up the fight tomorrow,” says Newland. “Today we’re going to just be grateful.”

Lexi Krupp reports on science and the environment. Previously, she worked for Gimlet Media where she helped the Science Vs team distinguish what's fact from what's not. Her work has appeared in Audubon, Popular Science, VICE, and elsewhere.
Max came to IPR in 2017 as an environmental intern. In 2018, he returned to the station as a reporter and quickly took on leadership roles as Interim News Director and eventually Assignment Editor. Before joining IPR, Max worked as a news director and reporter at Michigan State University's student radio station WDBM. In 2018, he reported on a Title IX dispute with MSU in his story "Prompt, Thorough and Impartial." His work has also been heard on Michigan Radio, WDBM and WKAR in East Lansing and NPR.