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Michigan Gov. Signs Bill to Keep Line 5 Pipeline Flowing

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Mackinac Bridge from Straits of Mackinac. Gregory Varnum / Wikimedia Commons

Michigan's outgoing Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation on Wednesday that creates a new government authority to oversee a proposed oil tunnel in the Straits of Mackinac to effectively allow Canadian oil to keep flowing through the Great Lakes.

The controversial tunnel will encase a replacement segment for Enbridge Energy's aging Line 5 pipelines that run along the bottom of the Straits, a narrow waterway that connects Lakes Huron and Michigan.


The new law creates a three-member Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority that is required to enter an agreement with the Canadian oil company on the construction and operation of the tunnel before the end of the month.

Snyder signed Senate Bill 1197 just a day after the GOP-controlled Michigan Legislature approved the bill—a move seen as a lame-duck rush before Democrats Gretchen Whitmer and Dana Nessel take over as governor and attorney general respectively, as the Detroit Free Press noted.

Both Whitmer and Nessel made campaign promises to shut down Line 5 over fears that the 65-year-old twin pipelines could spill and contaminate the Great Lakes, a source of drinking water for tens of millions of people. Line 5 has spilled 1.1 million gallons of oil along the right of way since 1968.

Dana Nessel for Michigan Attorney General- SHUT DOWN LINE 5! www.youtube.com

Environmentalists say Snyder's move has effectively allowed Line 5, which pumps up to 23 million gallons of oil and liquefied natural gas a day, to run for another decade while the tunnel is being built.

Under the new plan, the existing pipelines will be replaced with a new tunneled pipeline under the bedrock of the Straits of Mackinac. The project will take seven to 10 years to complete and cost as much as $500 million. Enbridge will foot the bill.

"We are deeply disappointed Gov. Snyder approved legislation that will keep oil pumping through the damaged Line 5 Pipeline for another decade or more," Lisa Wozniak, executive director at the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, said in an online statement.

"On Nov. 6, the people of Michigan made their position clear by electing candidates who pledged to keep oil pipelines out of our Great Lakes and protect our drinking water. We will continue to advocate, communicate and fight to protect our water and oppose oil pipelines in the Great Lakes as the new administration takes office," Wozniak added.

A recent poll by Lansing-based EPIC-MRA poll found 54 percent of Michigan voters want Line 5 shut down.

Snyder also appointed three members to the new Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority, Geno Alessandrini, Tony England and Michael Zimmer, who will each serve six-year terms.

No more than two members from the same party may serve on the panel. Snyder said both England and Alessandrini are Democrats. Zimmer is a Republican, according to the Detroit Free Press.

"We all understand the importance of bringing certainty to removing Line 5 from the waters in the Straits of Mackinac," Snyder said in an online statement. "By working together, they helped garner bipartisan support to ensure we are protecting the Great Lakes while securing better energy infrastructure for Michigan."

Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy said the company looks forward to working with the new authority.

"Replacing the Straits segment of Line 5 in a tunnel deep under the lake bed makes a safe pipeline even safer while ensuring a reliable and affordable energy supply to Michigan and the region," Duffy said in a statement, as quoted by The Detroit News.

Correction: A previous version of this article mistakenly said that Line 5 has spilled 1.1 million gallons of oil "into the lakes" since 1968. The pipeline has never spilled into the lakes itself, but along the right of way.

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