By state Rep. Joe Bellino
It’s a 300-plus mile drive from Monroe to the Straits of Mackinac. But the two locations are directly linked in lots of ways, environmentally and economically.
An oil spill in the Straits would affect the entire Great Lakes system. That’s one of the biggest reasons I support replacing the 66-year-old Line 5 segments that now run under the Straits with a significantly safer underground utility tunnel.
Another big reason is the economy – including jobs and the prices people pay for fuel. While we’ve rightfully heard a lot about how Upper Peninsula families rely on Line 5 to get the energy they need to heat their homes and run their businesses, it’s important to remember the pipeline and its reconstruction project have major implications statewide – including in southeast Michigan.
In 2018, I joined the Legislature in approving an independent oversight authority to make sure this underground tunnel is built the right way. We were on our way to a safer system for the environment while delivering the energy we all depend on. But that’s all been put at risk with efforts by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel to shut down Line 5 without a replacement plan.
This reckless action threatens to spark a long legal battle that would leave the aging pipeline in the Straits until it’s resolved, needlessly threatening the environment. Shutting down the pipeline beneath the Straits without a reconstruction plan also would endanger hundreds of jobs in southeast Michigan, including workers employed in factories and refineries that rely on Line 5 to fuel their operations. The price of propane would increase, and so would the cost of jet fuel at Detroit Metro Airport and gasoline – making it more expensive to heat homes, travel and operate businesses all over the state.
The fuel supply disruption that would result from a shutdown without a replacement has raised concerns from Canada and other states. In a recent letter, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine asked Gov. Whitmer to “please consider options to improve the safety of Line 5 that does not result in taking the pipeline offline.”
That’s exactly what a new underground tunnel would provide – increased safety, compared to both the current pipeline and alternatives if the pipeline were shut down without a replacement. Trying to rely on trucks, railroads or ships to transport fuel now moved by the pipeline would be far more costly – and far more dangerous, both for Michigan residents and our environment.
It’s time for all involved to put aside politics and do the right thing for Michigan by allowing construction of a new underground tunnel for Line 5 and getting the old one out of the Straits. It’s the best option, and it must be implemented sooner rather than later.
(Rep. Joe Bellino is chair of the Energy Policy Committee in the Michigan House. He represents portions of Monroe and Wayne counties in the House.)