Protect the Great Lakes, Shut Down Line Five: Update #2
by David Holtz
This is the second of occasional updates on the campaign to shut down line 5 and stop the flow of oil through the Straits of Mackinac.
If you are interested in a primer on Enbridge Line 5 through the Straits the Oil & Water Don’t Mix website is a good place to begin. For those who aren’t familiar with the campaign to shut down Line 5, it’s something I’ve been working on as a Sierra Club volunteer leader for nearly two years. This update, however, is mine and doesn’t necessarily represent Sierra Club’s views.
?Pipelines Aren’t the Only Thing Hidden in the Straits
Anyone looking for political leadership in the effort to shut down Enbridge Line 5 through the Straits of Mackinac might logically start with Congressman Dan Benishek, state Sen. Wayne Schmidt, and state Rep. Lee Chatfield, all of whom represent areas directly impacted if a pipeline ruptured in the Straits of Mackinac.
For the most part, however, we’ve heard little so far from the trio of Republican lawmakers when it comes to Enbridge Line 5. In July, Chatfield, whose district includes Mackinac Island and St. Ignace, promised to introduce legislation requiring more transparency from Enbridge and other pipeline companies, but has yet to follow through. Senator Schmidt and lame duck Congressman Benishek have said and done even less.
You’d think after more than 150 local businesses and thousands of their constituents expressed concern about Line 5 there’d be more engagement from local Straits lawmakers. Perhaps they need more encouragement. Chatfield is holding office hours tomorrow, September 28, from 9am-10:30am in St. Ignace at the Driftwood Restaurant and from 1pm-2:30pm at the Cup of the Day in Sault Ste Marie.
?Then Again Maybe We Should Follow the Oil Money?
Benishek, Schmidt and Chatfield are all supported with oil industry money. Benishek in June—before he announced his retirement—received a $5,000 check from Marathon Oil’s political action committee (PAC). Marathon this year has also contributed to Chatfield and Schmidt ($250 each) while the Michigan Petroleum Association’s PAC—Michigan Petroleum Jobbers—contributed $1,000 to Schmidt.
This is small potatoes, however, compared to the influence Big Oil asserts overall in Lansing. Reported lobbying expenditures by the petroleum association since 2002 top $493,000, with $47,477—their highest reportable spending on lobbying during that time—made in 2014. When it comes to campaign spending, few Republican lawmakers miss out on contributions from Big Oil and more than a few Democrats benefit from the industry’s largess. This year alone state House and Senate Republican campaign committees received $5,000 each from the petroleum association’s PAC. In 2014 House Republicans got $6,000, Senate Republicans $5,000 and Senate Democrats $1,000.
That’s in addition to contributions from the petroleum association to dozens of individual candidates for the Legislature, mostly Republicans. Since 2014 all but seven of the state Senate’s 38 members received contributions from the petroleum association’s PAC. Some of the biggest recipients of Big Oil money include state Sen. Mike Green, who last year took in $4,200 from the petroleum PAC and this year received $1,450 as of July. Green chairs three appropriations subcommittees, including natural resources and environmental quality. Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof and House Speaker Kevin Cotter each received $1,000 in petroleum campaign contributions. All told, the petroleum association’s PAC have contributed over $34,000 to Lansing lawmakers’ political committees or party caucus PACs from January through July this year.
?Enbridge Spill and PR Spin Exercise
He certainly wasn’t the Pope. But Enbridge CEO Al Monaco was expressing some humility about his company’s past Michigan sins in kicking off the Canadian oil transport giant’s spill drill behind a St. Ignace motel last Thursday just minutes before Pope Francis began speaking to Congress. Enbridge, along with government agencies, was testing oil recovery response. The lessons learned, Monaco said, transformed Enbridge into a changed company after its pipeline ruptured near Marshall, MI in 2010 sending 800,000 gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River basin. Perhaps. Or it could have been the $3.7 million in fines for the Marshall spill or, maybe, the 2012 government order requiring safety improvement plans by Enbridge throughout the Great Lakes region.
In any case, Monaco’s message that Enbridge was newly risk-averse when it comes to pipeline safety—especially in the Straits of Mackinac—contrasted sharply with the rest of the day’s spill drill, an event that doubled as an Enbridge PR exercise where the message was more “what me worry?” than papal-like humility. Sierra Club, Food & Water Watch, the Sault Ste Marie Tribe and others were on hand to counter the spin. Perhaps the most comprehensive reporting on the issue of oil recovery response came from the Detroit Free Press, whose reporting included Coast Guard and other oil recovery sources who were more skeptical than Enbridge about spill recovery readiness, especially in winter when from January through March the Straits are covered in ice.
As a side note regarding Enbridge’s oil spill recovery skills comes this bit of news from Minnesota: An Enbridge testing and readiness drill near Duluth resulted in an embarrassing spill…of dye. A confidence builder…not.
? Are pipelines through the Straits good for eternity?
Enbridge VP Brad Shamla proclaimed that Enbridge’s Line 5—although six decades old—was built to last, apparently forever since the company can’t be pinned down on any replacement timeline, if one exists. But according to at least one guy who helped build the pipeline in the early 1950s, they were told its lifespan was 50 years or about a dozen years ago. If you want to see a first-hand account of the 50s construction from one of the pipeline workers, Vice’s excellent documentary on Line 5 has that and more.
?The new Peters bill on Great Lakes pipelines
Michigan U.S. Sen. Gary Peters announced a new bill that would ban Great Lakes oil shipping and require more study and regulation of Line 5. Several environmental groups, including Sierra Club, Michigan League of Conservation Voters and FLOW, quickly embraced the proposal, but at least one group privately expressed disappointment that Peters didn’t address the issue of decommissioning Line 5 through the Straits. That is, after all, the only real solution to the threat of a catastrophic pipeline rupture in the Great Lakes. Still, the Peters proposal is a strong bill requiring a a more in-depth look at Line 5 that could eventually lead to a conclusion that oil flowing through the Straits doesn’t make sense and should stop. The question is whether that happens before or after a pipeline rupture.
? Enbridge Line 5 Focus of Wednesday and October 7 Talks
In all the Enbridge PR blitz last week, a new, comprehensive report on Line 5 through the Straits from FLOW didn’t get the attention it deserved. Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director of FLOW, will discuss Enbridge Line 5 through the Straits at noon on October 7 at the Leelenau County Government Center and will no doubt be sharing some of her organization’s expert findings, which debunk Enbridge’s claims about winter oil spill response and challenge Enbridge’s assertions that stopping Line 5 oil through the Straits means cutting off home heating fuel to the UP. This Wednesday one of FLOW’s scientific advisors, Dr. Ed Timm, will be at the Cheboygan Public Library, discussing the topic, How Safe Are The Pipelines.