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Wisconsin’s Largest Business Group Backs Enbridge As Michigan’s Governor Seeks Line 5 Shutdown

WMC Says Shutdown Would Be Devastating, While Opponents Point To Spill Risks

Mackinac Bridge over Straits of Mackinac
In this July 19, 2002 file photo, the Mackinac Bridge spans the Straits of Mackinac and is shown from Mackinaw City, Mich. Enbridge provided a report on alternatives to replacing its aging Line 5 under the Straits on Friday, June 15, 2018. Carlos Osorio/AP Photo

Wisconsin’s largest business lobbying group is backing energy firm Enbridge in their federal lawsuit against the state of Michigan as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer seeks to shut down the company’s Line 5 pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac. The state revoked an easement for the pipeline through its own lawsuit filed last November and ordered Enbridge to shut down the pipeline by Wednesday.

Enbridge has already vowed to defy Michigan’s deadline and continue operating the pipeline unless ordered to shut down by a court or federal regulators, saying Michigan lacks authority over its operations.

On Wednesday, the company highlighted broad support for Line 5 from the Canadian government, labor groups, state attorneys general and business interests in Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s main business group, is among those that filed a friend of the court brief in support of Enbridge.

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“The proposed shutdown of Line 5 at the Straits of Mackinac would have a substantial negative impact to their member businesses, their employees, and residents of Canada and the United States, including those of Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin,” the brief states.

The pipeline carries up to 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids per day from Superior to Sarnia, Ontario. Enbridge argues a shutdown would cause a shortage of propane and fuel throughout the region.

“This broad support underscores that efforts by the State of Michigan to shut down Line 5 have far-reaching and severe implications across the region and North America — well beyond Michigan’s borders,” said Vern Yu, Enbridge’s executive vice president for liquids pipelines, in a statement.

A shutdown would have “devastating consequences” on thousands of businesses and residents in Wisconsin and throughout the region, according to Scott Manley, executive vice president of government relations for Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. The brief states Wisconsin is the third-largest consumer of propane in the country.

“When we think about energy security and wanting to avoid the types of supply disruptions and price spikes that we’re seeing in the southeastern part of the country right now with the hacking of the Colonial Pipeline, that’s exactly what would happen in the northern part of Wisconsin if the Michigan governor is successful in shutting down Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline,” said Manley.

A 2020 report from an energy task force for Michigan’s Upper Peninsula identified alternative supply options with similar prices, but it noted disruptions to Line 5 would likely increase wholesale propane prices. Price increases would be further magnified at the retail level.

Enbridge has said propane is offloaded at Rapid River, Michigan, and likely supplies some residents in northern Wisconsin. Roughly 84,000 gallons of natural gas liquids are unloaded there daily while the vast majority is sent to Sarnia where it is then separated into other fuels and shipped back to Michigan.

Whitmer, along with tribes and environmental groups argue Line 5 is vulnerable to anchor strikes and other factors that could prompt a devastating spill in the straits, which connect Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.

Sierra Club’s Wisconsin Chapter Director Elizabeth Ward said the pipeline poses an enormous risk.

“I cannot imagine anything that would have a greater impact on businesses or residents than an oil spill in the Great Lakes,” said Ward.

Enbridge has argued the 68-year-old pipeline is safe and has never had a spill in the Great Lakes. But, Rob Lee, a staff attorney with Midwest Environmental Advocates, pointed to the company’s environmental track record, including the recent failure to disclose a spill for more than a year in Jefferson County.

Lee also highlighted that the company was fined millions of dollars by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for failing to meet requirements under a court-ordered consent decree related to oil spills in 2010, one of which cost Enbridge more than $1.2 billion to clean up. He added that any cost increases associated with a shutdown of Line 5 are nominal compared to the risks of its continued operation.

“Given the risks that we face to the Great Lakes of a spill there — of a pipeline that is already outdated — I do think that’s a small price to pay,” said Lee.

Manley argued that a proposed $500 million tunnel to house a new pipeline in the straits would eliminate any risk of a spill in the Great Lakes. Enbridge entered into an agreement with Michigan’s former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder in 2018 to build the project, and the company has been seeking state and federal permits.

The state of Michigan and Enbridge are currently involved in court-ordered mediation over the fate of the pipeline with a session scheduled next week. Lee contended the outcome of the dispute may be moot if the company is unsuccessful with its plans to reroute a roughly 40-mile stretch of Line 5 south of the Bad River reservation in northern Wisconsin.

“If those aren’t realized, you know, there will be no oil going through the Straits of Mackinac anyway,” said Lee.

The Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa filed a lawsuit in 2019 against Enbridge, aimed at shutting down and removing Line 5 from tribal lands. The company is currently seeking state and federal permits to reroute Line 5 in Ashland and Iron counties.