Michigan and Canada can disagree on the future of Line 5. But cheap shots by Michigan’s attorney general need to stop
Did you ever have a dispute with a longtime neighbor? One with whom you’ve had a good relationship even though you didn’t always agree.
Maybe over installation of a fence or a dog that barks incessantly. You get the picture, disagreements happen.
Most are resolvable if the parties make an honest effort and try to see the other side’s point of view.
But would you try to resolve a dispute by waving a pointed finger in your neighbor’s face at every opportunity? Lecturing the neighbor on why you’re right?
Most people would take a civil, collaborative path to dispute resolution, if they valued the relationship.
That brings me to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s decision to shut down the Line 5 oil and energy pipeline and Canada, Michigan’s neighbor. The neighbor with whom Michigan shares the Great Lakes. The neighbor that’s constructing and paying for a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.
Canada opposes Michigan’s Line 5 shut down decision as it’s dependent on the oil and energy that flows through the pipeline, Michigan is less so. The owner of Line 5, Enbridge, is a Canadian company so Canada is even more vested in the decision.
Enter Michigan’s Attorney General, Dana Nessel. Nessel campaigned in 2018 for her present job on shutting down Line 5 and has filed lawsuits to that end that are pending in various legal venues.
Fair enough, that’s her job as she sees it. And she has a lot of support for her position in Michigan, especially from anti-pipeline activists, who are legion and uncompromising on the issue.
Enbridge has countered with its own suits against Michigan and barring some compromise agreement between the parties, courts will eventually make a determination.
But Nessel isn’t content to stay in her legal lane. Seemingly never reticent on an issue, she can’t resist taking cheap shots at Canada.
In 2019 she referred to Enbridge as a “foreign corporation” that shouldn’t be relied on.
Technically, she’s right. Enbridge is a foreign corporation, but her reference sounds like an attempt to paint Enbridge as being from a distant land run by a dictator who has little disregard for Michigan.
It’s Canada, a half-mile across the Detroit River with a democracy similar to ours.
Former Michigan Gov Jennifer Granholm was born in Canada. Another former governor, James Blanchard served as the ambassador to Canada. Countless people commute between the U.S. and Canada for work everyday. If you pay attention, Canada isn’t so foreign.
But there was a foreign corporation that was an alleged threat to Michigan’s groundwater, the 6th Great Lake, that didn't trouble Nessel.
Nessel seemed to have no issue with Nestle, a Swiss company that takes groundwater, pays a pittance for it and sells it back to Michiganders and others in plastic bottles. Michigan bottled water activists have asked Nessel to intervene on water takings, like she’s doing on Line 5 but to no avail.
Nessel has also implied that Canada, because it doesn’t want Line 5 shut down, cares less about protecting the Great Lakes. That view lacks credibility on its face. Besides, there are agreements between the U.S. and Canada and agencies whose job it is to protect the Great Lakes.
In a final poke in Canada’s eye just before Line 5 is scheduled to shut down, Nessel told Bridge Magazine that Canada has an easy fix for its concerns. It “can lay a new pipeline on Canadian territory,” Nessel flippantly said.
Canada could lay a new pipeline, as Michigan could have shared the cost of that new bridge across the Detroit River that Canada, the U.S. and Detroit and Michigan will benefit from. Or Nessel could have used the gravitas of her office to protect the groundwater taking, but didn’t.
The Biden administration is trying to mend fences with Canada after four years of tension caused by President Donald Trump’s disrespect for Canada and its prime Minister, Justin Trudeau.
The last thing President Biden needs is a loose cannon like Nessel taking cheap shots at Canada. It’s disrespectful and serves no useful purpose. We’ve had enough of that.
Photo: Detroit and Windsor, Ontario courtesy of NASA.
Chicago-based environmental journalist