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Michigan Senate passes bills with major impact on the Great Lakes

Michigan Senate passes bills with major impact on the Great Lakes
December 6, 2018 GLNeditor
Photo by Jimmy Emerson via flickr.com cc 2.0

One Step Closer to a Line 5 Tunnel in the Straits of Mackinac

SB 1197 passes along party lines in the Senate

By Mary Ellen Geist | December 6, 2018

GOP leaders and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder are trying to finalize the Line 5 Tunnel agreement before Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer, takes office in January. Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel, both Democrats, say they oppose the tunnel plan and have called for Line 5 to be decommissioned.

But pushing the bill through a lame-duck session may not guarantee that the tunnel will be built.

Still, the Michigan Senate on Wednesday voted 25-13  — mostly along party lines —  to approve legislation that would create a three-member authority to oversee construction of a tunnel 100 feet below the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac that would encase a new segment of the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline. Enbridge has agreed to foot the bill of $350 to $500 million for the construction, which is estimated to take up to 10 years.

Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline is 65 years old. It carries up to 23 million gallons per day of oil and natural gas liquids through a 4.5-mile twin pipeline between Michigan’s Upper and Lower peninsulas.

Public outcry and protests

SB 1197, introduced by state Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, originally called for the seven-member Mackinac Bridge Authority to oversee construction and assume responsibility for the tunnel, as proposed by the Snyder administration in October.

But last week’s introduction of the bill prompted public outcry and protests, and many members of the Senate expressed concern about the choice of the Authority to run the tunnel.

In a matter of days, GOP leadership in the Michigan Senate amended the  legislation to have Snyder quickly appoint three members to a newly created authority, the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority (MSCA.)  The Governor needs to choose the appointees by the end of the month, according to the proposal, and each appointee would serve six years.

Sen. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, introduced new bill’s substitute after the Mackinac Bridge Authority oversight idea was scrapped.

“The pipeline is needed. This is the best way to keep the Great Lakes safe while also ensuring residents are able to get the supplies they need,” he said. Many residents in my district rely on propane from Line 5 to heat their homes and businesses.”

The legislation, as passed by the Senate, says eminent domain will not be an option under the MSCA’s, and no state funds will be used for construction, operation, maintenance, or decommissioning of the tunnel. However, $4.5 million will be budgeted for MSCA oversight and other planning. SB 1197 also states that only two members of the MSCA will be of the same political party.

One Senate Democrat tried to get other members of his party to support the bill. State Sen. Adam Hollier from Detroit said the tunnel would make the pipeline safer and provide needed propane to Upper Peninsula residents. He was the only Democrat who supported SB 1197. Three Republicans voted against the bill.

Legislators seem more comfortable with creating a new authority”

Great Lakes Now reached out to Governor Snyder’s office for comment, and spokesman Ari Adler sent a statement:

“We have been working closely with legislators to address concerns over the original version of SB 1197. Legislators seem more comfortable with creating a new authority, and we await SB 1197 coming to Gov. Snyder so he can review the final version and make a decision on signing it.”

Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy supports the new authority. His statement:

“Enbridge believes the time is right to build for the future. Replacing the Straits segment of Line 5 in a tunnel deep under the lakebed makes a safe pipeline even safer while ensuring a reliable and affordable energy supply to Michigan and the region. An independent authority is the logical choice to have ownership and oversight of the tunnel.”

Moments after the bill passed in the Senate, reaction came in from the Great Lakes Community.

“This rushed, half-baked legislation to advance the Snyder/Enbridge tunnel scheme is a diversion from the real issue that Michigan simply doesn’t need Line 5.” said Mike Shriberg, Great Lakes regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation and a member of the Governor’s Pipeline Safety Advisory Board. “The legislation attempts to keep the existing Line 5 threatening our water, economy and way of life for at least another decade while ignoring the safer alternatives for meeting Michigan’s energy needs. That’s a good deal for Enbridge and their lobbyists at the Capitol.  It’s a bad deal for Michigan.”

“A dangerous giveaway to Enbridge”

Environmental activists are lobbying House members to vote against SB1197 when it comes up for a vote, currently scheduled for next week.

“This proposed legislation sentences the Great Lakes and Michigan to 10 years or more of living with a massive high-risk oil spill in the Mackinac Straits. House members should see this proposed legislation for what it is—a dangerous giveaway to Enbridge—and reject it,” said Sierra Club Chapter Chair Anne Woiwode

“If Enbridge, a multinational corporation, wants an oil tunnel in the Mackinac Straits that primarily benefits its shareholders, it should propose doing it without governmental partnerships or special treatment,” said Sean McBrearty, senior organizer with Clean Water Action. “We need elected representatives who will take care of Michigan’s citizens, its businesses and the Great Lakes.”

Great Lakes Now will bring you the latest developments as the legislative debates and actions continue.

Michigan wetlands bill advances in lame-duck state Senate session

Advocate: “The Casperson bill, if passed will be devastating.”

 By Gary Wilson | December 6, 2018

Legislation to relax wetland protections in Michigan advanced in a lame-duck session this week as the Michigan Senate voted largely along party lines to dramatically reduce the number of wetlands subject to regulation.

The bill, S.B. 1211, is sponsored by outgoing state Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, who contends that existing law infringes on individual property rights by preventing owners from filling small wetlands.

He cites a property owner who was subject to a fine for filling a wetland as justification for the legislation.

Wetland expert Central Michigan University biology professor Don Uzarski has said “the Casperson bill, if passed will be devastating.”

Uzarski manages a $20 million federal Great Lakes region program that monitors wetland health.  He also advises the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on wetland restoration issues.

“Deregulation of these wetlands is not consistent with the federal Clean Water Act,” Uzarski said, and could lead to the federal government’s withdrawal of Michigan’s authority to regulate wetlands.

He said if Michigan loses its delegated wetland authority the time to secure a permit would increase from six months to approximately two years.

“(Some) 70,000 separate wetlands areas in Michigan….. could lose vital protective regulations”

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has identified 70,000 separate wetlands areas in Michigan that cover an estimated half a million acres that could lose vital protective regulations.

The bill appears at odds with the federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative which places a high priority on retaining and restoring wetlands.

The program has invested $150 million in wetland restoration in the region since 2010, according to an EPA spokesperson.

The legislation now advances to the House and must ultimately be signed by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, who has not indicated his intentions.

This is a developing story and Great Lakes Now will continue to provide updates.

 

 

Featured Image: Rotunda Dome Oculus, Michigan State Capitol, Photo by Jimmy Emerson via flickr.com cc 2.0

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