Lessons of Flint “not learned” activist says. Citizens and activists petition U.S. EPA to intervene in another Michigan drinking water crisis
Last week I received a press release with the following headline.
“Groups File Emergency Petition Asking EPA to Order Safe Water for Benton Harbor, MI Due to Shocking Lead Contamination”
Ok, I knew Benton Harbor was experiencing drinking water issues but wasn’t aware they had risen to the level of warranting an emergency federal intervention. Then it dawned on me, this is Michigan.
I covered the Flint water crisis beginning in its early days before the existence of lead in the water was known. Another press release immediately came to mind and after a quick search, it was from October 2015.
“Groups Petition EPA for Emergency Response to Flint, MI Drinking Water Contamination”
I wasn’t going to attend the Benton Harbor presser unless it was convenient, but I made time.
What unfolded was eerily similar to Flint.
A Benton Harbor community leader pleading for help.
“For at least three years, the people of Benton Harbor have been waiting for safe drinking water uncontaminated by dangerous lead. But we are not willing to wait any longer. It’s urgent that the EPA intervene to give this community access to water that won’t harm our health, especially our children’s health,” said Reverend Edward Pinkney.
Non-profit activists from the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center and the Natural Resources Defense Council had engaged in support of Benton Harbor residents.
Nick Leonard from the Law Center said activists were told by the Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) that the Benton Harbor situation is under control. Research indicated otherwise.
Cyndi Roper from NRDC’s Michigan office said Michigan “did not learn the lessons from Flint” and it was shocking to be dealing with this issue.
Worth noting, EGLE is the re-branded and reorganized successor to the Department of Environmental Quality that failed Flint. In the reorganization, a position of Clean Water Public Advocate was created. It’s role is to “accept and investigate complaints and concerns related to drinking water within the state of Michigan,” according to its website.
Also worth noting is that this petition has about 20 groups and individuals who signed on, including Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, who was instrumental in exposing the lead that Flint residents were exposed to,
What’s Michigan saying?
Curiously, the day before the Benton Harbor press release Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a plan to replace the city’s lead pipes within 5 years. The plan requires legislative approval.
Community leader Rev. Pinkney said thanks but Benton Harbor needs clean water now.
I contacted EGLE for comments on the request for emergency intervention by the EPA. Spokesperson Scott Dean responded with a list of actions taken and support provided for Benton Harbor. Dean did not comment on the request for EPA to intervene.
Also asked was what advice EGLE’s Clean Water Public Advocate provided to agency Dir. Liesl Clark and staff on Benton Harbor’s drinking water issues.
EGLE didn’t respond to the question except to provide a link to the advocate’s 2020 annual report.
Where to from here?
Now it’s up to President Joe Biden’s EPA to determine if an emergency intervention is necessary.
In 2015 the EPA under President Barack Obama initially declined NRDC’s intervention request but later declared an emergency and provided support to Flint. The regional EPA administrator with responsibility for Flint resigned based on her handling of the water crisis.
An emergency intervention in Benton Harbor would be a rebuke of Gov. Whitmer, a close Biden ally. Refusing to intervene would deflate Biden’s equity and environmental justice credibility, a key pillar in his Build Back Better plan.
After three years of reporting and commenting on the Flint crisis, I was relieved to move on. I thought I’d never see anything like what happened in Flint take place in Michigan again.
I was wrong.
How to best spend a billion dollar windfall? Stay the bureaucratic course or full speed ahead on cleaning up toxic sites?
It was like Christmas in August recently for the Great Lakes when the Senate finally reached a compromise agreement on President Joe Biden’s big infrastructure bill. It is now in the House where its future is less certain.
Quietly tucked into the legislation was $1 billion for the Great Lakes. Specifically, for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), the 2010 Obama era program designed to restore the lakes to a semblance of the pre-industrial era.
Here’s the kicker.
This billion dollar gift is in addition to the annual $300+ million GLRI has received annually since 2010. To date, the program has funded Great Lakes cleanup projects to the tune of $3.5 billion with another billion or more dollars tentatively scheduled for the next four years. That’s a boat load of money.
So, good news right?
Maybe, depending on where the money is spent.
I’ve tracked GLRI since its inception in 2009 and when in the planning stages. The good news is that it’s a big program of the type that only the federal government can implement. The bad news is it’s a big federal government program which means it comes with a lot of baggage.
In addition to the eight states, toss in a dozen federal agencies and the requisite state agencies and you end up with a bureaucratic, slow moving train of a restoration project that’s a mile wide and an inch deep. And where seemingly every member of congress in a district close to the Great Lakes has to have a slice of the federal pie. Legislators love to host press conferences where they can brag about bringing federal funding, warranted or not, back to their district.
Back to the $1 billion of newly-found funding and how to spend it.
Cleaning up 26 toxic sites in the region designated Areas of Concern in 1987 has been part of the original GLRI plan and has badly lagged. Of the 26, only five have been removed from the list.
The Detroit River for example still has 3-4 million cubic yards of toxic sediment on its bottom and remediation won’t happen until 2030 or later, I’ve been told by knowledgeable sources.
What if that billion dollars of Biden bucks was set aside specifically for those 21 remaining toxic sites? There’s a credible plan.
And it’s not my plan.
In the run-up to creation of the big infrastructure bill, a coalition of Great Lakes activist groups wrote to Congress requesting $1.5 billion for the Areas of Concern. I often disagree with those groups on restoration priorities and level of success, but on accelerating toxic site clean up, they’re on the mark.
I recently told a colleague that I would no longer write about the GLRI program. That’s because it drones along with some success but that’s combined with more than enough inertia.
One Great Lakes watcher told me a few years ago that succeeding generations, when they look back at this era of restoration, will say that their predecessors didn’t accomplish that much.
Minimally, I’ll still keep an eye on those AOC’s and what happens with the Detroit River. It’s the heart of the Great Lakes and also a mile from where I grew up so I feel obligated to report on its health and hopefully, recovery.
Besides, it deserves better than it has received from the multi-billions of dollars spent on restoring the Great Lakes.
Photo: Detroit River via NOAA.
It's been a while, let's catch up. First, the 2014 Toledo water crisis.
August 2nd was the 7th anniversary of the Toledo water crisis when a toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie caused the disruption of drinking water for 500,000 people in Toledo and Michigan.
It was a stunning event, the type that isn't supposed to happen in a developed country, especially the U.S. But it did and for three days the spotlight was on Toledo as its citizens scrambled far and wide for bottled water.
Once the all clear to drink Lake Erie water was given the soul-searching began. How did this happen and how do we prevent it from happening again. But it didn't take a big investigation. Algae blooms are a product of nutrient runoff from farms that eventually flows to Lake Erie. By 2014, there was little debate about the veracity of the source.
The solution, get farmers to reduce the runoff without regulating them. So, Ohio and the federal government funded programs that would provide financial incentives if farmers implemented best practices that reduced runoff. In other words, pay farmers to not pollute.
According to U.S. EPA information, since 2010 $100 million was paid from the federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative coffers to ag to implement those best practices. Did it work? Not really. A relatively small number of farmers took advantage of the incentive program and not at a large enough scale to turn the tide toward protecting Lake Erie.
In 2019 Ohio, with great fanfare, launched its own financial incentive program that pays farmers to not pollute. Results? Too soon to tell but most experts are skeptical.
More telling is what we aren't doing and that's developing regulations to prevent farmers from sending their algae-fueling fertilizer to Lake Erie. At a 2019 conference of Great Lakes governors I asked Ohio's Mike DeWine if, given the risk to Lake Erie, it was time to slap some regs on farmers. He gave me a circuitous answer listing the things that Ohio is doing to combat algae blooms but closed by saying on regulations, "we're not there yet."
There's a lawsuit brought by activists against the U.S. EPA that's been winding its way through the federal court process that if successful, would require the agency to pick up the pace on protecting Lake Erie. A decision is expected in September.
Handicap what a court will do at your own peril but I don't see a sea change coming from the courts or any federal or state agency on tightening the screws on ag's farming practices.
And it's not political. If Democrats and Republicans agree on one thing, it's that farmers, the original stewards of the land as they like to refer to themselves, don't need more regulation. Alienating farmers is the political third rail.
The 7th anniversary of the Toledo water crisis came and went with little fanfare that I could detect. How quickly we forget, I guess. Or it can't happen here syndrome. But don't be surprised if there's another one someday and it won't provide any advance notice.
And like Toledo in 2014 and Flint in 2016, the spotlight will be on the Great Lakes region's stewardship of its vast water supply. But the spotlight will eventually go out, until the next crisis.
Drought in the American west sparks interest in the Great Lakes. Policy experts sound the alarm but are governors listening?
It’s another day and another reference to the potential for water-rich areas in the U.S. and Canada to send water to the drought-stricken American west.
This week it’s Canada’s Maude Barlow on Twitter saying “water is disappearing in the American West. I predict it’s only a matter of time before there are ‘discussions’ on exporting Canadian water.”
There’s nothing revelatory about the statement as shipping water west has been talked about for decades. But context is important.
Barlow is not an idle observer, she’s an internationally known water rights advocate having advised the United Nations Secretary General on water issues.
Barlow’s comment comes on the heels of a news report that Idaho might be wise to look to Lake Michigan for water. Again, not unusual except that the report recognizes the potential legal barriers to securing Lake Michigan water but says that as the west gains political power, those laws may be changed at a future date.
Not every threat to take Great Lakes water comes from the west.
The village of Somers, Wisconsin recently started work on a pipeline that would tap Lake Michigan for a million gallons a day. There’s just one problem though. Somers isn’t in the Great Lakes basin so it’s not automatically entitled to Great Lakes water. It needs a permit from the state of Wisconsin which must review the request in compliance with the Great Lakes Compact, that eight-state agreement that governs diversions.
Maybe the village was just ignorant of the requirement for state approval, you may say. It’s a tiny village and a million gallons a day isn’t a lot of water. What’s the harm?
But there have been two high-profile requests from cities in this same area to take Lake Michigan water. It would be hard for a water utility manager to not know about the withdrawal permits needed from the state DNR.
There are also unaddressed weaknesses in the Compact itself. When drafted, it included a diversion allowance for cities in a county that “straddled” the Great Lakes basin. The provision was included to help secure Wisconsin’s vote to approve the Compact because everyone knew that Waukesha, a city in a county that “straddles” the basin divide, was on the cusp of requesting a withdrawal from Lake Michigan.
My point here is that when you have the world’s largest source of fresh surface water on Earth, water-poor areas will want you to share it.
That’s where the Great Lakes governors come into play. They’re responsible, individually and as a collective, to make sure Great Lakes water stays in the Great Lakes basin.
What are they saying about water conservation and protecting the Great Lakes from diversions? Nothing that I can tell.
The governors and Canadian premieres from Ontario and Quebec will gather for their biennial “summit” in Cleveland in September. Missing from the agenda is any reference to the Great Lakes Compact, future threats from diversion requests to the American west or water conservation in general, which is their responsibility.
The people sounding the alarm on conserving Great Lakes water and protecting it from commodification aren’t fringe alarmists. They are veteran policy experts who have the long view like Chicago’s Cameron Davis and Dave Dempsey from Traverse City, in addition to Canada’s Barlow.
The governors should invite them to speak at their “summit.” There are lessons they can learn.
Western drought sparks another muse about pipelines of water headed westward. The time to quash this thinking is now.
If you're a long-time follower of the threat from arid western states to Great Lakes water, this scenario won't be news to you.
Prolonged drought like the one the west is currently experiencing hits and water managers start thinking about alternate sources. Hmmm, the Great Lakes region has water, way more than it needs. We build pipelines to transport other commodities, why not water? There's a flurry of discussion then said western state gets rain and the issue fades. Fades, being the key word, taking Great Lakes water doesn't go away, it's always in the background.
The latest Great Lakes water muse comes from Idaho as reported by Fox News Radio. The story hits the traditional talking points previously mentioned here -- surplus Great Lakes water shipped to Idaho by pipeline, problem solved. Simplistic thinking? Sure. But these are the times we're in.
But this time someone in Idaho has done their homework. The story never mentions the Great Lakes Compact, the eight state agreement that prevents water diversions, with a few exceptions, to areas outside the Great Lakes basin. The Compact is also codified in a federal law signed by former President George W. Bush in 2008, which takes precedent.
But the writer must be aware of the law because this is tucked into the end of the story.
"Millions of thirsty western voters will have a lot of pull on policy. As the region grows, so does its power in the United States House of Representatives. By its design, the Senate is already favorable to western concerns."
And they got it right. The Great Lakes states will lose five seats in the House as a result of the 2020 census. Toss in the fact that the federal government has been unstable for the past four years and Congress is still showing signs of instability and in a few years, or 10 years a perfect storm could descend. A serious legislative move to ditch the Great Lakes Compact could be a real threat.
When I mention the potential threat to the lakes from the west to people who pay attention to
policy issues, I usually get a polite scoff. Followed by "we've got the Compact." Or worse, "the Compact is ironclad."
That kind of thinking comes through a 2008 lens. What's needed is for the Great Lakes intelligentsia -- governors, mayors, policy advisers and water conservation advocates -- to view the threat of diversions through a 2028 lens.
And to start now on a move to quash the diversion threat from western states before it gains momentum in our rickety federal government.
Because like a bolder going down hill, once a movement gets momentum in Washington, it's hard to stop.
Should traders, hedge fund managers and others be able to bet on future water prices and availability?
In my daily scan of news from around the region, what one editor told me was both a blessing and a curse, there is no shortage of Great Lakes stories.
They’re omnipresent. Some are substantive but most lean towards being a rehash of familiar themes and issues with marginal updates. But occasionally one jumps off the page like this one and I’m riveted.
“MWRD Board of Commissioners Passes Resolution that Affirms Water is a Basic Human Right.”
First, MWRD is the greater Chicago Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, a beneath the radar agency that manages the sewerage system and generally takes care of the Chicago River for Chicago’s teeming millions. It’s more complex than that but you get the picture.
Declaring access to safe drinking water is a human right is a strong statement. Especially from an agency that has a reputation for liking the status quo until recent years when more progressive commissioners were elected.
But here’s the kicker.
The press release begins talking about the December 2020 launch of “the country’s first water futures market” in California. “It allows traders, banks, hedge funds, and others to bet on future water prices and availability,” according to the MWRD release.
What followed was a statement from Commissioner Cam Davis.
“We are blessed to live, work, and play in one of the most water-rich regions on the entire planet. Water belongs to us all because all life depends on it. This strong statement by my colleagues puts us on record against privatizing water for private gain.”
Just like that, the agency responsible for safe-guarding water for over 5 million residents in the country’s 3rd largest city bordering Lake Michigan laid down a marker.
The Great Lakes should not be for sale, traded or speculated on in futures markets for profit.
If the name Cam Davis sounds familiar it’s because he has a long track record as an advocate for the Great Lakes. He led a not-for-profit and springboarded to the Obama EPA where he advised the administrator on Great Lakes issues before becoming a MWRD commissioner.
Relevant to diverting Great Lakes water, Davis was part of the NGO cadre that prompted the governors to pass the Great Lakes Compact preventing diversions. It was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2008 and remains in place today.
Davis and other veterans of Great Lakes issues going back 20 years or longer know that these threats to take Great Lakes water can be real.
In addition to Davis, veteran Michigan Great Lakes advocate Dave Dempsey is tracking the water futures issue. Dempsey authored Great Lakes For Sale in the early 2000s highlighting the perils of commodifying the Great Lakes. He has broad policy experience including advising the U.S. and Canadian governments on Great Lakes issues.
Dempsey is now an advocate for the public trust protection of the Great Lakes that MWRD advocates for in its resolution.
I don’t want to be alarmist. The Great Lakes region isn’t California and the futures market threat isn’t imminent. But the current generation of Great Lakes leaders including Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer - the de facto Great Lakes CEO if such a title existed - are focused elsewhere. Certainly not on a potential future taking of water from the Great Lakes.
If those otherwise focused Great Lakes executives need a wake up call on the risk of selling Great Lakes water, they should read and heed the resolution penned by Chicago’s water commissioners.
Or call Davis or Dempsey, both of whom would be glad to tell them why this is an issue not to be ignored.
USEPA gets a big bump but the Army Corps takes a hit; strong funding for a new Soo Lock. Great Lakes restoration, meh.
If a president’s budget signals priorities, we got a first look at President Joe Biden’s Great Lakes and environmental priorities last week when Biden released his first budget.
Jumping off the page are the 22% increase for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and a 13% cut for the Army Corps of Engineers.
My quick take, staffing for the EPA had been declining well before President Donald Trump took office and bolstering the EPA was clearly not a priority for him. Trump’s budgets proposed big cuts for the agency but Congress didn’t allow the axe to fall. EPA plays a big role in Biden’s climate agenda and will need resources to make that agenda work, assuming it’s passed by Congress. Thus, the big increase.
The budget ding for the Army Corps is curious. Perhaps it’s related again to Biden’s overall climate agenda. More reliance on softer, sustainable solutions than constructing things that try to control nature, to oversimplify. Watch for this cut to get serious scrutiny from Congress where the Army Corps has a lot of friends, including on the Democratic side of the aisle.
Biden is proposing a $10 million increase to $340 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the most popular environmental project in the region. Lakes advocates had been lobbying for $375 million.
Honestly, the minimal $10 million increase looks more like a political contribution to Michigan which went for Biden in the election rather than someone doing an analysis and determining the program needs another $10 million. Since its inception, Great Lakes restoration has been the recipient of approximately $3 billion, no trifling amount.
While Republicans will wail against the overall cost of Biden’s budget, don’t be surprised if the advocates get the $375 million for restoration when Congress gets done with its slicing and dicing of the budget.
Plus, there’s this. In addition to doing some good work in the last 10 years, one advocate had the courage to point out that the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has also become the region’s pork barrel. Politicians of both parties love holding those press conferences that demonstrate bringing money back home, needed or not.
A years-long bi-partisan effort to get a green light and funding for a new Soo Lock is a Biden budget winner securing $480 million. This one should sail (bad pun) through the process. The shipping industry is happy as is industry in general but especially steel and manufacturing in key Great Lakes cities.
The Army Corps Asian Carp project to build a choke point at a lock in Illinois that would inhibit the carp’s progress toward the Great Lakes limps along. Biden put a requisite $4.9 million in his budget for engineering and design work. The estimated cost of the lock modification is $770 million and if finally approved, the work will be complete in 2028 or so. That’ll be roughly 19 years after the need for a more permanent fix to stop the carp advance was identified. Advocates swear by this project, I’m not so sure anymore.
The Great Lakes budget projects are part of Biden’s overall budget which contains his multi-trillion dollar infrastructure and climate initiatives.
They’re the main event and Biden wants it resolved this summer. You can watch your favorite news outlet probably on a daily basis to see how that’s going.
An important reminder, even-though the president proposes an annual budget, Congress controls the federal purse strings.
Biden administration supports Trump decision to allow drilling in Alaska; move is a 180 from his climate policy
The Biden administration in a court filing this week gave its support to a Trump administration decision that allowed oil drilling in Alaska’s North Slope. Environmental groups challenged the Trump decision and Biden’s team filed a brief with the court in support of the decision to drill.
The New York Times reported that Trump’s allowance for drilling was in compliance with the environmental rules in place. For details, here’s the Times report.
What happened, you may rightfully ask. Biden is all in on dealing with climate change, it’s one of his signature policies. And this decision runs counter to everything Biden said on the campaign trail and in his first months in office as he rolled out his climate policy agenda, right?.
So what happened? Is Biden just another politician who will say anything to get elected?
No, he’s better than that but governing is complicated. Policy proclamations run on a continuum, they’re not absolute. Left to his own devices, more oil drilling in Alaska would be an easy proposal for Biden to ding. But the decision exists in a broader context as the Times reported.
The project has the support of the state of Alaska, unions, the state’s two senators including Lisa Murkowski who is seen as a swing vote in the senate and some of the state’s Tribes.
You get the picture, there’s a lot more at stake for Biden than just drilling in Alaska. With an evenly divided senate, Biden needs to court every vote and Murkowski is one he may need to swing his way if his climate and infrastructure agendas are to become reality.
Great Lakes parallel?
Biden may be in a similar box when it comes to the Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline in Michigan’s Straits of Mackinac. Environmental groups have been pushing hard to have Line 5 shutdown since 2013.
Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder agreed, but not without a replacement. In 2018 just before leaving office Snyder signed a law that provides for Enbridge to construct and pay for a pipeline in a tunnel to replace Line 5.
Snyder’s successor, Gretchen Whitmer inherited the Line 5 issue and in 2020 finally ordered the existing pipeline shutdown. Enbridge defied the order and courts will eventually decide the fate of the aged pipeline unless Enbridge and Michigan can come to an agreement.
Meanwhile, Michigan has given Enbridge permits to construct the pipeline in a tunnel but environmental groups don’t want that to happen. It’s backward looking and again, it runs counter to what Biden has been saying on energy and reliance on fossil fuels.
Seems like a layup that Biden would come out against building another pipeline to transport fossil fuel. But his team, while pitching his clean energy and climate plan at every turn, have been strangely silent on the Michigan tunnel project.
A generic, it’ll be decided by the courts is the standard answer.
What’s up with that?
Again, it’s complicated. Unions, a core Biden constituency, support construction of the tunnel as does Canada. And Biden wants, actually needs to build back relations with Canada after President Trump gave our northern neighbor the cold shoulder for four years.
Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, has policies that align with Biden’s and on the world stage they could have a big impact.
A court will eventually decide the Alaska drilling issue, but Biden giving it a nudge is not a minor thing. Biden sitting out the Michigan pipeline conundrum could sway that one too.
But who knows, I don’t because it involves politics, and it’s complicated.
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.
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.