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Michigan GOP lawmakers seek expedited environmental approval for Line 5 tunnel

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Michigan GOP lawmakers seek expedited environmental approval for Line 5 tunnel

Feb 09, 2024 | 2:43 pm ET
By Jon King
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Michigan GOP lawmakers seek expedited environmental approval for Line 5 tunnel
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A sign in the U.P. supporting Enbridge's Line 5 tunnel | Susan J. Demas

State Rep. Dave Prestin (R-Cedar River) sent a letter Thursday to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) urging them to expedite its review of the Line 5 Great Lakes Tunnel Project (GTLP) so construction can begin. 

USACE previously had a planned publishing timeframe of late 2023 for an environmental impact study (EIS) of the project, but has since pushed that back to spring 2026.

“A tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac is the optimal solution to safeguard the Great Lakes while ensuring vital energy products are continuously provided to residents in Upper and Lower Michigan, as well as communities nationwide,” wrote Prestin in the letter, signed by 34 other GOP legislators. “Propane plays an indispensable role in sustaining rural communities, which often lack the energy and sewer infrastructure present in more urbanized areas.”

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Line 5 stretches from Superior, Wisc., to Sarnia, Ontario, including two pipelines that run across the lakebed of the Straits of Mackinac. It transports up to 540,000 barrels of crude oil and natural gas liquids per day.

The tunnel project was proposed in response to safety concerns with the pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac and would relocate the pipelines into a concrete lined tunnel embedded in the bedrock below the lake. 

Canadian pipeline company Enbridge applied for a permit with USACE in April 2020 pursuant to the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 and the Clean Water Act. Federal approval is necessary for the project as it involves discharging dredged or fill materials into waters of the United States, as well as the construction of structures and/or work that may affect navigable waters.

Enbridge has already received permitting approval from the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) and the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC), which leaves USACE approval as the last required step before construction can begin.

In the letter that was also sent to Michigan’s congressional delegation, Prestin noted that the MPSC’s 2023-24 Winter Energy Appraisal, estimated around 800,000 people rely on propane for heating, which he says gives urgency for the process to be completed.

“These approvals underscore the necessity of the pipeline to provide fuel to the region, ensuring compliance with Michigan’s laws and environmental regulations while leveraging the best available technology to guarantee the safe and reliable transportation of fuels across the Great Lakes region,” wrote Prestin. “In an interview discussing the approval, MPSC Chairman Dan Scripps corroborated what proponents of the tunnel project have asserted for some time: the tunnel represents an effective means of safeguarding our lakes while delivering essential energy, with its alternatives posing a considerably greater threat to the environment.”

Prestin also noted that USACE said it is limiting the scope of their environmental review to just the four-mile portion of the Line 5 pipeline that crosses the Straits and will not take into account the impact of Line 5 products on climate change or how the proposed tunnel project fits into the broader pipeline infrastructure.

“Additionally, the Corps noted that it ‘does not have authority over the operation of Line 5, and continued operation of Line 5 is beyond the scope of this analysis.’ Given this information, it seems that approval of the project is inevitable,” said Prestin.

Rep-Prestin-Great-Lakes-Tunnel-Project-Letter

 

However, tribal and environmental groups see the issues as anything but inevitable.

The MPSC approval is being appealed by the Bay Mills Indian Community, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, and Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi, who have strongly opposed the project, alongside multiple businesses and environmental groups. 

One of the groups is Oil and Water Don’t Mix, which on Wednesday sent its own letter to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), expressing concerns that Enbridge’s plans to lay off 650 workers will negatively impact the safety of the Line 5 oil pipeline. 

“Any compromise in the safety and integrity of these pipelines due to workforce reductions could have significant consequences for the entire Great Lakes region’s economy, environment, and Native American communities in Michigan and Wisconsin,” stated the letter.

Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy tells the Michigan Advance that the “difficult, yet necessary, decision” to reduce its workforce would not “impact our ability to safely operate our assets and facilities, or our ability to ensure the safety of the communities in which we operate.”

Prestin said the tunnel project had withstood “rigorous scrutiny” at every stage so far and urged USACE to move it toward completion.

“In light of the delays, we urge you to consider expediting the project through the EIS process,” he said.