Enbridge defied the shutdown order, Whitmer raised the stakes and pro Line 5 groups rallied. Where’s Biden?
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Wednesday deadline for Enbridge Energy to comply with her order to shut down the Line 5 pipeline came and went as expected. Not much changed.
Enbridge said long ago that it would defy the order claiming that Line 5 is safe, and its regulator is the federal government, not Michigan. And that Line 5 would continue to operate unless a federal judge ordered it shut down. To date, no judge has.
Michigan made proclamations that Enbridge is now operating Line 5 unlawfully, no surprise there. Whitmer attempted to raise the stakes for Enbridge saying that if Michigan prevails in court, the state will attempt to seize Enbridge’s profits from the date the shut down order was in effect.
Her statement was rooted in legalese so I assume there may be a basis for the demand. Politically, it gave the appearance of tossing environmental groups, her shut down backers, a new talking point.
A quick comment on the environmental groups.
They first engaged on Line 5 in 2013 when most people, myself included, didn’t even know there was a pipeline in the waters at the Straits of Mackinac. They put a spotlight on the issue, built coalitions and made attempts to support their positions with science.
Those things are hard to do and harder to sustain for eight years. Agree with them or not, they are to be applauded for standing up for what they believe and for their sustained effort.
Line 5 proponents rally
Proponents of letting Line 5 operate weren’t exactly silent on Line 5, but they didn’t raise the fuss that environmental groups did, until Whitmer gave the shut down order.
Since, they’ve found their voice.
Unions had quietly told Whitmer that they support the continued operation of Line 5 until its pipeline in a tunnel replacement is constructed. They want those jobs. Days before the shutdown however they held a hard hat protest at the Michigan capitol.
Canada has a large dependence on oil transported via Line 5 and the Liberal government made a big push that included direct appeals to the Biden administration to intervene. Canada also threatened to invoke a U.S. and Canada treaty that protects transport of oil between the countries. That would be a big deal and a test of the strength of the relationship between the countries, who take pride in having each other’s back.
The state of Ohio, with refinery jobs at stake made a plea to Whitmer to reverse course. And business groups in both countries via their respective Chambers of Commerce presented a united front against the shut down.
That’s a lot of fire power in favor of the status quo, at least until that pipe in a tunnel is built, if it is.
President Joe Biden is not a pipeline president. He’s stuck with them for now but after taking office he was quick to shut down the Keystone project.
Surely he’d weigh in supporting Whitmer’s order, afterall…. Whitmer was on his shortlist for V.P. and she worked hard to deliver Michigan for Biden in the election.
But it’s been radio silence from the White House on Line 5.
Biden’s in a tough spot. Philosophically, I suspect he’d like to publicly support Whitmer. Practically, he’s trying to mend fences with Canada after the Trump White House repeatedly disparaged Canada and its Liberal Prime Minister and President Obama buddy, Justin Trudeau.
In a White House press event this week, Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm was asked about the administration’s position on Line 5. She quickly said it was a matter for the courts to settle.
That’s curious since Granholm was born in Canada and… she’s a former governor of Michigan. In the Biden administration, pipelines are her direct responsibility. She must have an opinion. Talk about a missed opportunity.
Where to from here?
Courts have ordered Michigan and Enbridge to work with mediators in hopes they’ll find common ground that leads to a compromise agreement.
I’ve had insiders from the anti-pipeline groups privately tell me they expect a face saving agreement. I’m not so sure. If forced to predict, I’d bet a buck that a judge will eventually decide.
Chicago-based environmental journalist