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Five Reasons the State Must Consider Climate in the Oil Tunnel Decision

By Margrethe Kearney and Kate Madigan -

Enbridge is attempting to permit and build a tunnel under the Great Lakes to relocate its aging Line 5 oil and natural gas liquids pipeline. The pipeline tunnel would carry millions of gallons of climate-harming fossil fuels every day through our state for up to 99 more years. There is no doubt that extending the life of this pipeline would exacerbate climate change and the impacts we are already seeing in Michigan.

Straits of Mackinac

Enbridge needs to get state approval to build its tunnel, so Michigan Climate Action Network (MiCAN) joined the legal experts at Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) to formally intervene in the permit process at the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) and make sure the impacts this new oil infrastructure would have on the climate are considered.

In a disappointing decision last week, an Administrative Law Judge in the case sided with Enbridge and ruled that the MPSC is not required to consider the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the extraction, refinement, or consumption of oil transported through Enbridge’s proposed Line 5 tunnel and pipeline. Enbridge wants to make the scope of what the MPSC considers so narrow that it only includes the footprint of the actual tunnel itself, ignoring the other impacts everyone knows building this oil tunnel will have on our climate, our air, and our health.  What’s more, the decision completely overlooked the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the construction of the tunnel itself.

Tell Gov. Whitmer and the Legislature to support bold climate action in Michigan.

What is also disappointing is that on the very day Governor Whitmer signed a climate executive order that sets Michigan on a path to be carbon neutral by 2050, MPSC’s own staff sided with Enbridge and claimed that climate emissions of this oil tunnel should not be considered.

MiCAN and ELPC will now appeal the judge’s decision to the MPSC Commissioners asking that they allow climate emissions to be considered as part of its review of the permit, both from the construction of the tunnel and from the extended operation of the pipeline.

Here are five reasons why the MPSC must consider climate in this decision:

  1. Leading climate scientists urge us to make aggressive global cuts to climate emissions to avoid the worst impacts of an overheating climate – calling for 40-50% reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030 and to net-zero by 2050. This is not the time to ignore the climate impacts of new oil infrastructure.
  2. Construction of a tunnel and pipeline that will directly result in greenhouse gas emissions and also lead to the transport and use of significantly more greenhouse gas-emitting petroleum products must be subject to environmental review under Michigan law.
  3. The Michigan Environmental Protection Act does not limit the types of environmental impacts considered in administrative hearings about projects like Line 5, and it certainly makes no sense to ignore climate change, which scientists say is the single greatest threat to our environment today and will continue to be so for decades to come.
  4. Other states – including Wisconsin and Minnesota – and federal courts are now including climate impacts in environmental reviews of oil pipelines. The time for excluding climate change in decisions about building major and long-term fossil fuel projects is over.
  5. Whitmer’s recent Executive Order on Climate Change makes clear that reducing carbon emissions is a high priority for the future well-being of Michiganders. The executive order stated: “To combat this climate crisis, Michigan must take comprehensive, coordinated, and aggressive action.”

It is no longer 1953 – the year that Line 5 began operation. It is clear that in 2020, we must address the existential threat caused by the burning of fossil fuels. We will keep fighting for the climate to be part of decisions about building a major fossil fuel infrastructure project in Michigan.

Margrethe Kearney is Senior Attorney for the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

Kate Madigan is Director of the Michigan Climate Action Network. 

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