Enviros protest Line 5 on Kalamazoo oil spill anniversary, praise Sanders’ support for shutdown

Mackinac Bridge | Susan J. Demas

On the ninth anniversary of the Kalamazoo River oil spill, environmentalists and progressives gathered in Lansing Thursday to protest Enbridge’s Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac.

Enbridge, the Canadian oil company whose Line 6B burst to cause the Kalamazoo incident in 2010, is currently fighting to preserve its Line 5 tunnel construction project. That was established in a December 2018 law signed by GOP former Gov. Rick Snyder that Enbridge says will prevent future oil spills. 

The company has filed a lawsuit to preserve the project, which Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has sought to have dismissed.

Enbridge announces lawsuit, Nessel responds: ‘We’ll see you in court’

But to the activists who gathered Thursday, any form the project may take poses an unacceptable risk.

“Pipelines and the oil they carry represent a danger to our environment, our public health, and our planet,” said Cayley Winters of the liberal group Progress Michigan. 

Shannon Wykes-Nehring, a former Kalamazoo city commissioner and activist with We the People Michigan, said the Line 5 project is “irresponsible” and “allows Enbridge to take a gamble on [Michigan’s] health and safety.”

Presidential hopeful U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Thursday also recognized the Kalamazoo disaster’s anniversary in a tweet in which he called for Line 5’s closure and reiterated his support for the progressive Green New Deal.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who’s also vying for the Democratic presidential nomination, earlier in July declared he believes the pipeline should be shuttered, calling it a “clear and present threat to the Great Lakes.”

Sean McBrearty, Michigan organizer for the coalition Oil and Water Don’t Mix, praised both candidates in a statement.

Bernie Sanders at the NAACP candidate forum | Andrew Roth

“Today, Senator Bernie Sanders has joined Michigan residents, groups and tribal communities in opposition to Enbridge Energy’s plan to build an oil tunnel through the Straits of Mackinac for the outdated and corroding Line 5 pipeline. Washington Governor Jay Inslee previous spoke in support of efforts to decommission Line 5 without a replacement tunnel,” McBrearty said.

“Climate change is already impacting our water and health — we have to address the climate crisis now by transitioning to a clean energy future. Unnecessary fossil fuel infrastructure like the Line 5 oil tunnel will slow these efforts.”

In late June, state Attorney General Dana Nessel filed a lawsuit seeking to halt construction on Line 5 completely. That effectively ended previous negotiations between the state and the oil company that could have kept the door open for the project’s completion.

That move didn’t sit well with some Democrats, including six state representatives who signed a letter earlier this month opposing the move.

6 Dem legislators sign letter opposing Nessel’s Line 5 lawsuit

Jeff Insko, an activist who lived near the site of the Kalamazoo spill, said Thursday that “for almost a decade now Enbridge has exhibited a pattern of behavior that indicates that they will say or do almost anything to advance their own interest… it’s high time to shut down Line 5.”

In its most recent statement in response to Nessel’s lawsuit, Enbridge said it “has been operating Line 5 safely for 65 years. During that time there have been no releases from the lines into the Straits. … Notwithstanding the safety of Line 5, Enbridge has continued to listen carefully to the concerns of Michiganders and committed to further actions.”

Wisconsin tribe sues for Enbridge Line 5 closure

On Tuesday, the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa filed suit on against Enbridge to shut down the pipeline, parts of which run through its reservation land on the south shore of Lake Superior.

Enbridge issued a statement on Thursday that it is “surprised and disappointed” at the suit.

“Over the years, we have been successful in establishing trust along our pipelines based on respect for the environment and the unique cultures of tribal communities.” said Brad Shamla, vice president of Enbridge U.S. Operations. “We look forward to our discussions continuing with Bad River to that end, as well.”

Derek Robertson
Derek Robertson is a former reporter for the Advance. Previously, he wrote for Politico Magazine in Washington. He is a Genesee County native and graduate of both Wayne State University, where he studied history, and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.
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Susan J. Demas is an 18-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.

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