Lansing — Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office says 40 “thugs” attacked his Midland home Wednesday afternoon by pounding on the windows and doors while his wife was home alone in protest over a controversial oil pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac.
Michigan State Police troopers assisted Midland police in responding to the scene at Schuette’s home, but “the crowd eventually dispersed and no arrests were made,” state police spokeswoman Shanon Banner said Wednesday.
“This was a cowardly assault by professional protestors whose car license plates mostly appeared to be from out of state,” Schuette spokeswoman Andrea Bitely said in a statement.
The protesters beat on the front door of the Schuettes’ home for about 30 minutes, Bitely said.
“Based on how violent the beating of the front door sounded from inside, Mrs. Schuette believed during the attack that the goal was to break the front door down,” Schuette’s spokeswoman said.
The Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands and the radical environmental group Earth First! claimed credit for the demonstration but disputed characterizations of mob-like behavior.
“Maybe the loudness (of our chants) was a thing, but there was no banging on windows or doors or anything like that,” said Dan Ayler, 29, of Lansing. “I find it disturbing the attorney general is going to lie about what people were doing.”
Cynthia Schuette reported the protesters poured oil-like substance on the driveway “seemingly to simulate spilled oil related to the oil pipeline issue in the Straits of Mackinac,” Bitely said.
Bill Schuette, a Republican, has been part of a review of Enbridge Energy’s 63-year-old Line 5 oil pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac. Although he has said the aging pipeline’s “days are numbered,” Schuette has stopped short of calling for the pipeline to be shut down.
“While these thugs failed, what happened today was an outrageous attempt to intimidate and bully the Schuette family and the people of Michigan through Bill’s role as the Attorney General of Michigan,” Bitely wrote in an email to reporters.
The environmental groups accused Schuette of stalling the closure of Line 5 and indicated the mysterious substance spread on his driveway was actually “a little bit” of chocolate syrup.
“He’s so terrified of this Hershey’s syrup, and yet he’s not doing anything to shut down Line 5,” Ayler said. “I wonder if he can imagine what it would be like to live along the pipeline and actually experience what a real oil split would look like.”
Schuette was out of state Wednesday attending a conference, Bitely said.
In interview last month with The Detroit News, Schuette called for a more expedited review of the risks associated with the continued operation or shutdown of Line 5, as well as the alternatives for rerouting infrastructure that supplies energy to Michigan, Ohio and Ontario.
Enbridge Energy, which operates the two pipelines running under the straits, has said it is “constantly monitoring” the condition of the lines. Congress last month approved passed a new mandate that pipelines such as Line 5 be inspected internally and externally once a year.
An Enbridge official told The Detroit News that the Canadian company has “never had an incident” with Line 5 under the Straits of Mackinac and that there are control valves on both peninsulas to shut off the flow of oil “within a couple of minutes.”
The incident at Schuette’s home comes one week after he met with Enbridge officials at his Lansing office, including Brad Shamla, vice president of U.S. operations at Enbridge. Shamla is a member of the state’s pipeline safety advisory board, which was formed as a result of a task force inquiry of Line 5 that Schuette led last year.
In response to questions about the meeting with Enbridge, Schuette’s spokeswoman said the attorney general is “fully committed to getting the risk and alternatives analysis done as soon as possible and to that end, he and his team are working constantly with the task force, Enbridge and Michigan’s environmental community.”
Schuette’s office condemned the protester’s methods of pressuring state officials to shut down the oil pipeline.
“If the issue at hand is actually Line 5 and not just an excuse to use professional protestors to intimidate state officials and the people of Michigan, this type of reckless and violent behavior was even more illogical since the attorney general has made clear the pipeline is a risk and is working hard with all groups involved to find a public policy solution that protects the Great Lakes,” Bitely said in a statement.
“Violence and intimidation has no place in this situation or any other.”
The National Wildlife Federation environmental group defended Schuette’s actions on Line 5 in posts on Twitter on Wednesday night.
“We’re working with @SchuetteOnDuty to #shutdownline5! Protecting #GreatLakes from threat of oil spill is critical,” the NWF’s Great Lakes office wrote on Twitter.