Photo via State Rep. Greg Markkanen
Photo via State Rep. Greg Markkanen

State Rep. Greg Markkanen is among those pushing for a more expansive Line 5 project. Here’s how that could set Michigan up for an environmental disaster.

ST. IGNACE, MI — Controversy has ignited again surrounding the Canadian company Enbridge and its Line 5 oil pipeline that runs through the Straits of Mackinac. 

Enbridge told MLive that significant damage was found in a support anchor for the pipeline June 18, but that the damage did not extend to the pipeline itself or cause a leak. The damage occurred a day before Enbridge was fined $6.7 million by the Environmental Protection Agency over pipeline safety concerns in Minnesota and Wisconsin. 

Despite this, Michigan House Republicans passed a resolution Wednesday urging state and federal authorities to rush approval to expand Enbridge’s Line 5 project.

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State Rep. Greg Markkanen (R-Hancock), a representative from the Upper Peninsula, introduced the resolution that chastised oversight from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy and other regulators that sought alternatives to Enbridge’s Great Lakes Tunnel Project, which would build a tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac to support Line 5.

“Without a doubt, putting Line 5 in a tunnel deep beneath the Straits of Mackinac is the best long-term solution for our state,” Markkanen said. “It will protect the Great Lakes from the threat of a spill while ensuring Upper Peninsula families still have access to the energy they need to heat their homes each winter. As an added bonus, the construction project will create hundreds of jobs for Michigan workers.”

But the structural damage to existing Enbridge infrastructure calls the reliability of such a tunnel into question.

Enbridge temporarily suspended operation of the pipeline but quickly resumed pumping nearly 23 million gallons of oil daily, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement. 

Attorney General Dana Nessel has asked state courts to compel Enbridge to provide the state with a full report and suspend use of the damaged line until that report can be reviewed. 

“The State deserves to see all of the information in Enbridge’s possession about this significant incident and to independently verify the accuracy and reliability of the information provided,” Nessel said. “I will continue to use all the resources at my disposal to protect Michiganders from companies with an incentive to prioritize their own profits over the safety and well-being of our residents.” 

Nessel’s skepticism of Enbridge is supported by the recent federal action against the company. The fines from the EPA reflected a broader corporate habit on the part of Enbridge as it relates to poor infrastructure maintenance and repairs as well as not complying with government oversight.

Ingham Circuit Judge James Jamo agreed with Nessel Thursday, reports Michigan Radio. Jamo ordered the west pipeline be shut down within 24 hours until a hearing can be conducted on the state’s complaints.

“Since the risk of harm to the Great Lakes and various communities and businesses that rely on the Great Lakes would be not only substantial but also in some respects irreparable, this court grants a temporary restraining order against the defendants’ continued operation of the West Line until a hearing on the state’s request for a preliminary injunction and further related court order,” Jamo wrote.

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Nessel has been engaged in a protracted legal battle with Enbridge about Line 5, which the company has so far been winning in its resistance against state insistence on exploring other options. But given the new damage to the pipeline’s infrastructure, Nessel redoubled her efforts.

“To date, Enbridge has provided no explanation of what caused this damage and a woefully insufficient explanation of the current condition and safety of the pipeline as a result of this damage,” Nessel said. “We cannot rely on Enbridge to act in the best interests of the people of this State so I am compelled to ask the Court to order them to.” 

Markkanen has characterized Nessel’s lawsuit as the state dragging its feet on the project’s speedy authorization. 

“At some point, the delay tactics have to come to an end,” Markkanen said.