By Eric Kachman (April 8, 2022)
Once again, the overwhelming influence of special interests has created a climate related problem on both national and international levels. This time, an idyllic spot in Michigan is the focal point.
Aging pipeline threatens the Great Lakes
The Enbridge Line 5 has long been a concern for the people of Michigan and it continues to drive the debate on environmental platforms and policies. One flash point exists where the pipeline runs under the Straits of Mackinac.
Enbridge wants to replace aging infrastructure there, including putting a tunnel under the lake. Enbridge claims this would be a safer approach, however, recent expert testimony exposes the threat of such a tunnel to our Great Lakes. For example, fumes or leaks with active electrical equipment could cause a catastrophic explosion under the Straits.
Enbridge has resisted releasing information on the safety and integrity of the pipeline tunnel. In a review of the tunnel project conducted by the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC), experts testified to the threat. However, Enbridge fought to keep this testimony out of the public record and out of consideration by the MPSC. Documents obtained through a request of the MPSC confirm that electrical equipment will indeed be used in the tunnel.
No short-term solutions
Policies set by previous administrations leave few good short-term solutions for the Line 5 problem. Abruptly decommissioning Line 5 is not an option. We can’t just turn off the spigot without creating additional problems.
For one thing, alternative forms of transport also pose major risks to the environment—tankers, trucks, and rail each carry their own chance of failure. Then there are those 60,000 jobs that depend on the pipeline, both in state and out. And, as the final arbiter of the debate, the federal government wants Line 5’s continued operation because it affects other states and impacts international agreements with Canada.
But as with anything related to climate change, Line 5 isn’t an isolated case. Anyone following the news over the last few years remembers other flash points such as the Keystone XL pipeline and environmental disasters resulting from questionably-regulated infrastructure, such as 2010’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill. A recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests that if we can reign in the undue influence of special interests, we have a chance at avoiding a global climate meltdown.
Viable long-term solutions
As the best solution, we should invest in infrastructure for green energy, set policies that reduce the need for fossil fuel infrastructure, and extricate ourselves from the diplomatic ties that have resulted from decades of reliance on fossil fuels in the global economy. With that underway, we would no longer need the pipeline, and could phase it out. All this will take time, and we must live with the short-term consequences.
That’s not to say that the optimal solution would be easy to implement, or lack opposition—in fact, we can expect special interests to run a very well-funded opposition.
First, we must deal with the influence of special interests
Which brings us to the real source of the problem. The most significant hurdle to any solution is the overwhelming influence of the oil industry on the government. Per OpenSecrets, the Oil and Gas industry donated $139 million to political parties in the 2021–2022 cycle, and they have a vested interest in suppressing investment in post-carbon infrastructure. Investments in green infrastructure compete with their profits, and would in time render obsolete their massive capital investments.
Therefore, any real solution must start with campaign finance reform. This is the reason for Wolf-PAC. We’re fighting to put such reform right in the Constitution through an amendment. Only by removing the overwhelming influence of special interests on our government can we launch ourselves into a green new world.
The Wolf-PAC all-volunteer Communications Team created this blog!
- Editing by Kristine Baumstark and Brian Martel
- Ellison, G. (2021, October 4). Canada invokes 1977 treaty in bid to stop Enbridge Line 5 shutdown. Mlive. https://www.mlive.com/public-interest/2021/10/canada-invokes-1977-treaty-in-bid-to-stop-line-5-shutdown.html
- Enbridge Energy, Limited Partnership. (2020, December). Enbridge Energy, Limited Partnership’s Supplemental Direct Testimony and Exhibits of Aaron Dennis and Certificate of Service (U-20763). Michigan Public Service Commission. https://mi-psc.force.com/sfc/servlet.shepherd/version/download/068t000000HxWGHAA3
- Enbridge Line 5. (2021, May). Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enbridge_Line_5
- Jaremko, D. (2021, May 19). Line 5 shutdown threatens thousands of jobs in Canada, U.S.. Canadian Energy Centre. https://www.canadianenergycentre.ca/line-5-shutdown-threatens-thousands-of-jobs-in-canada-u-s/
- Lindwall, C., & Denchak, M. (2021, November 1). What Is the Keystone XL Pipeline? NRDC. https://www.nrdc.org/stories/what-keystone-pipeline
- McCarthy, J. (2022, April 4). We Can Still Stop 1.5°C Warming, Says IPCC. But We Need Climate Action Now. Global Citizen. https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/ipcc-climate-mitigation-report/
- McWhirter, S. (2022, January 7). Pipeline expert warns of Line 5 tunnel explosion risk, Enbridge balks. Mlive. https://www.mlive.com/public-interest/2022/01/pipeline-expert-warns-of-line-5-tunnel-explosion-risk-enbridge-balks.html
- Oil & Gas. (n.d.). OpenSecrets.org. https://www.opensecrets.org/industries/indus.php?ind=E01
- Straits of Mackinac. (n.d.) Encyclopaedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Mackinac-Bridge
- The Solution. (2019, April 15). Wolf-PAC. https://wolf-pac.com/the_solution/