Michigan agency to include climate in tunnel permit review

TRAVERSE CITY, Michigan (AP) – A Michigan agency on Wednesday made a split decision in a battle over a pipeline that carries oil under a canal that connects two of the Great Lakes.

The Michigan Public Service Commission is considering Enbridge Inc.’s application to replace the section of Line 5 that runs under the Mackinac Strait. The new segment would be housed in a planned underground tunnel.

The company signed a contract with former Republican Governor Rick Snyder to build the $ 500 million tunnel in 2018. Enbridge has received permits from the Michigan Department for the Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, but continues to require permits from the State Public Service Commission and the US Army Corps of Engineers.

The commission said Wednesday that in evaluating the grant of a permit it will not judge whether the entire 1,038-kilometer route that runs through northern Michigan and Wisconsin should continue to operate.

Environmental activists and indigenous tribes opposing Line 5 had asked the commission to look into the matter. Claiming the entire pipeline is a hazard.

Instead, the agency said it would only focus on the 6.4-kilometer section that crosses the strait between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.

“The public needs issue on the pipeline has been a long resolved matter since the pipeline was first approved in 1953,” it said.

However, the commission joined the pipeline’s opponents in ruling that emissions of climate-warming gases would be one of the factors it considered when deciding whether to grant the permit.

Line 5 transports approximately 87 million liters of crude oil and natural gas fluids from Superior, Wisconsin, to Sarnia, Ontario every day. Such fossil fuels release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases when burned.

The commission said the Michigan Environmental Protection Act required consideration not only of the pollution from the construction of the tunnel and new pipeline segment, but also of the petroleum fluids they carried.

The agency did not say how much weight it would place on this issue in deciding whether to grant approval, but said it would welcome evidence.

“They are realizing these gases are a pollutant and are damaging the environment because they contribute to climate change,” said Margrethe Kearney, senior attorney for the Environmental Law & Policy Center, who speaks out against the pipeline. “This creates a hurdle that Enbridge must overcome.”

Enbridge said in a statement it would provide information on the matter if the Commission so requests.

“Our goal is simple,” said the company. “To replace the two pipelines in the strait with an even safer pipeline that is enclosed in a concrete tunnel far below the lake shore.”

Whitney Gravelle, chairwoman of the Bay Mills Indian Community, said she was disappointed that the commission refuses to examine whether Line 5 threatens contracted tribal fishing rights in the area’s waters.

“The decision ignored consideration of the tribal nations that will be hardest hit by this tunnel proposal,” Gravelle said.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has revoked a 1953 state relief that allowed the pipeline to run under the strait. The line is to be shut down by May 12th. Enbridge is denying her order in federal court.

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