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Michigan Public Service Commission approves controversial Line 5 proposal

 The proposed tunnel to house Line 5 would emerge next to the existing Enbridge Mackinaw Station near Mackinaw City, Michigan.
Lester Graham
The proposed tunnel to house Line 5 would emerge next to the existing Enbridge Mackinaw Station near Mackinaw City, Michigan.

The Michigan Public Service Commission approved Enbridge Energy's controversial plan to relocate its Line 5 petroleum pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac.

The commission voted 2-0 Friday to approve the deal, with commissioner Alessandra Carreon abstaining. The vote clears a hurdle for Enbridge's plan to replace a segment of pipelines directly on the lakebed with a tunnel carrying the lines beneath it.

Line 5 runs 645 miles from Superior, Wisconsin, through Michigan, to Sarnia, Canada. The pipeline can transport up to 540,000 barrels of crude oil per day.

Dan Scripps, chair of the public service commission, said the petroleum products carried in Line 5 are needed, and Enbridge's plan would reduce the risk of oil spills in the Great Lakes.

"We are an important step closer to finally, once and for all, removing the threat the current pipeline poses to our Great Lakes," he said during the meeting.

Environmental groups, however, have criticized the decision. Sean McBrearty, the Michigan director for Clean Water Action, said the new proposal does not fix any of the dangers with Line 5.

"Line 5 presents an unacceptable risk to the waters of the The Great Lakes, that we all rely on. This replacement scheme is ill-founded, never been attempted before, and entirely unnecessary," he said.

Other groups, including The Groundwater Center, For Love of Water, and Oil & Water Don't Mix, all condemned the ruling in statements released Friday.

"Greenlighting this tunnel simply trades one set of extreme risks for another," Ashley Rudzinski, the climate and environment program director for the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, said in a statement. "Beyond the risk of a disastrous explosion and oil spill and in our Great Lakes, investing in massive new fossil fuel infrastructure during this time of climate crisis is ludicrous."

A spokesperson for Enbridge said the ruling was a "major step" in turning the Great Lakes Tunnel project into a reality.

"Ultimately, the MPSC agreed with its staff’s conclusions that Line 5 transports critically needed energy for Michigan and the region and placing the Line 5 pipeline in the Great Lakes Tunnel better protects the Great Lakes," the spokesperson said.

State Senate republican leader Aric Nesbitt applauded the ruling in a statement, calling the pipeline a "critical energy source" for Michiganders.

"The bipartisan tunnel project is the best and safest way to ensure Michigan residents can fuel their cars and heat their homes for years to come," he said.

The proposal still needs approval from other regulatory agencies, such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. And while Enbridge awaits that approval, the company remains in a court battle with Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, who's seeking to enforce an order to shut down the pipeline.
Copyright 2023 Michigan Radio.

George Weykamp
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