Report: County officials line up to support Line 5

Mackinac Bridge | Susan J. Demas

Enbridge’s controversial Line 5 oil pipeline is gaining support with the Michigan Association of Counties and county commissioners, according to a new report by the nonprofit Michigan Campaign Finance Network (MCFN).

The Canadian oil company sponsored a conference for the Michigan Association of Counties (MAC), according to an investigative report from MCFN, a Lansing-based organization tracking money in politics. The association referred to Enbridge as a “partner” in organizing the conference.

MCFN found that Enbridge has paid roughly $63,000 for sponsorships and advertisements with MAC since the start of 2018, according to a voluntary disclosure from the association. 

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Adding a pro-Line 5 amendment to their policy platform passed a voice vote by MAC members at a meeting last month, according to the report. The amendment supported a proposal to keep a functioning pipeline in its current location — the Straits of Mackinac — and construct a utility tunnel to encase it. 

Dana Nessel | Susan J. Demas

Legislation for the tunnel’s construction passed the GOP-controlled Michigan Legislature during the 2018 Lame Duck session and was signed by then-Gov. Rick Snyder. Current Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel — who both ran 2018 midterm campaigns highlighting the environmental hazards of Line 5 on the Straits — are trying to halt action on the tunnel.

County Commissioner Joe Stevens — who represents the U.P.’s Dickinson County — backed the amendment. He didn’t voice concerns with Enbridge’s sponsorship of part of the conference.

“If there was a problem, there would have been some objections,” Stevens told MCFN. “This is an issue that would catastrophically affect the U.P. [Upper Peninsula] if Line 5 closed down.”

The Dickinson County Board of Commissioners in June became one of the first county boards to put their support behind the tunnel’s construction and continuation of Line 5 operations. 

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“The Dickinson County Board of Commissioners extends its support for Enbridge’s proposed tunnel replacement project and urges the State of Michigan to work with Enbridge to complete the tunnel project as quickly as possible and not disrupt Line 5 service before the tunnel can be completed,” the resolution read. 

The debate around the Line 5 oil pipeline stems from two key issues. 

2019 Mackinac Policy Conference | Susan J. Demas

Line 5 supplies 65% of the propane used in the Upper Peninsula, according to Enbridge. Shutting down Line 5 could dramatically hinder delivery to consumers there, according to the pipeline’s supporters. 

“People are scared to death that they are not going to have propane,” Oakland County Commissioner Shelley Goodman Taub told MCFN. 

But concerns over the pipeline’s structural conditions are also significant. Miles of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan water and shoreline could be affected extensively by a potential oil spill should lines corrode and rupture. 

Oil & Water Don’t Mix, a coalition of Michigan residents and organizations opposing Line 5, said MCFN’s report shows Enbridge’s influence. 

“Enbridge is purchasing influence and political support in Michigan, plain and simple, and they are poisoning our politics along with our Great Lakes environment,” said Sean McBrearty, a coordinator for Oil & Water Don’t Mix. “Our elected representatives are supposed to represent the people. We can’t trust them to do that when they are financially beholden to Enbridge and their oil and gas industry allies.”

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In an email statement to the Advance, Enbridge spokesperson Ryan Duffy said the company is always looking for community support.

“Enbridge appreciates the support of local governments for the Line 5 tunnel project,” Duffy said. “We know most Michiganders recognize the tunnel as the best option to help ensure Michigan continues to receive from Line 5 reliable energy, as well as other practical and economic benefits.”

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