Traverse City-based policy center appeals Michigan’s Line 5 permit

Traverse City-based policy center appeals Michigan’s Line 5 permit
January 9, 2024 Interlochen Public Radio

By Izzy Ross, Interlochen Public Radio

This coverage is made possible through a partnership with IPR and Grist, a nonprofit independent media organization dedicated to telling stories of climate solutions and a just future.

A Great Lakes water law and policy center in Traverse City is appealing a state permit for the Line 5 tunnel project.

Last month, the Michigan Public Service Commission granted Enbridge a permit to build a new section of the pipeline in a proposed tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac.

It would replace the two existing pipelines that run underwater about four miles along the lakebed between lakes Huron and Michigan.

The nonprofit For Love Of Water, which was an intervenor in the case, said the commission’s decision violates the Michigan Environmental Protection Act.

“MEPA requires all agencies to determine if a proposed project is likely to impact the air, water, and natural resources, or public trust in those resources, and to deny approval when, as here, there are feasible and prudent alternatives,” FLOW’s news release said.

Executive Director Liz Kirkwood said the commission didn’t adequately consider other options to the tunnel project.

“There is existing pipeline capacity around the Great Lakes that can transport products from Line 5 that doesn’t jeopardize 20% of the planet’s fresh surface water,” she said. “These are the feasible and prudent alternatives that the MPSC ignored, and these are the very important issues that will come up on appeal.”

An Enbridge spokesperson said in an email that the company will review appeals when they are filed.

In 2017, the company Dynamic Risk Assessment Systems released an analysis of alternatives to the existing pipelines in the straits at the request of the state.

According to the commission’s permitting decision, Dynamic Risk found that “there is no meaningful partial capacity within existing infrastructure,” and that it is “essentially equivalent to the full abandonment option” — decommissioning the dual pipelines and using other methods to transport the products to Michigan. Because of that, Dynamic Risk did not conduct an environmental review of that option.

Officials with the commission said last month that there is a “public need” for the tunnel project, because it will lower the risk of environmental damage while allowing pipeline operations to continue.

They also said the project would be less environmentally damaging than alternatives, like using trucks or trains to transport fuel.

Enbridge has maintained that Line 5 is important to energy security in the region, especially in the Upper Peninsula. But FLOW said multiple studies show the market could handle a Line 5 shutdown with little impact to energy supplies or the economy.

Another issue is Michigan’s transition to renewable energy. In the December meeting, Chair Dan Scripps acknowledged that a transition is underway, but he said fossil fuel infrastructure is still necessary.

“In the meantime, we have a responsibility to approve the infrastructure needed to meet our energy needs, and to take steps necessary to get the current pipelines off the bottom lands,” he said.

Kirkwood said it was wrong to build a new pipeline to continue transporting oil during a climate emergency.

“People are transitioning, and this transition, it has to be a priority,” she said.

Four Michigan tribes and other environmental organizations are also appealing the state’s permit decision.

The tunnel project still needs a federal permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. A decision on that is expected in 2026.

Catch more news at Great Lakes Now: 

Michigan regulators approve key permit for Enbridge Line 5 tunnel

Enbridge: Federal review of Line 5 tunnel permit is ‘inexplicably lethargic’

Featured image: This map shows the proposed tunnel and the existing dual pipelines crossing the Straits of Mackinac. (Screenshot from the MPSC Line 5 Issue Brief)


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