Walberg seeks to prohibit Biden from shutting Line 5 without Congress' OK

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg has introduced a bill in Congress to block President Joe Biden from "punitively" shutting down Line 5 or any other oil or natural gas pipeline without congressional approval. 

The legislation says the president may not revoke a presidential or other permit for construction or operation of a pipeline or electric transmission facility unless authorized by Congress.

The bill is unlikely to be taken up in the Democrat-led House this year, but it underscores the alarm expressed by Walberg and other Republican lawmakers about the possibility of closing the segment of the Line 5 pipeline running under the Straits of Mackinac, warning it could further increase energy costs. 

Line 5, owned and operated by Enbridge Inc., supplies 65% of propane demand in the Upper Peninsula, and 55% of Michigan's propane needs statewide.

“Across this country, hardworking families are facing skyrocketing heating costs this winter, and further constraining American energy will only make the crisis worse,”  Walberg said in a statement.

“Congressional approval should be required before the president unilaterally cancels a permit and blocks energy supplies that keep our homes warm and grow our economy. We continue to urge the Biden administration to put the needs of Michigan families first.”

The bill's cosponsors include Michigan Reps. Jack Bergman of Watersmeet, John Moolenaar of Midland and Lisa McClain of Bruce Township.

The Biden White House has said it's not ready to take a position on the pipeline. It has pointed to an ongoing study by the Army Corps of Engineers looking at the environmental impact of a proposal by Enbridge to build a tunnel to house a new segment of Line 5 under the Straits to safeguard the pipeline from potential hazards.  

"This is consistent with President Biden's commitment that every infrastructure project — potential pipelines very much included — must undergo a full and fair review that considers the environmental impact that those projects would have," White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said last month. 

l-r, Mary Schihl, 76, of Clinton Township and Eileen Perkins, 78, of Clinton Township, support the shut down of line 5 and the protection of the Great Lakes.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, has ordered the shutdown of the existing pipeline, saying it represents a grave risk to the Great Lakes and contending that Enbridge has committed easement violations.

Unhappy Canadian officials have challenged Whitmer's decision on the grounds of a 1977 treaty and asked a federal court to pause the shutdown until the United States and Canada can reach a resolution.

Jean-Pierre said last month that the negotiations between the U.S. and Canada are "certainly not an indicator that the U.S. government is considering shutdown. That's something that we're not going to do," adding that the administration had "nothing new to share" on its position on the existing pipeline. 

Enbridge has stressed that millions of people and businesses on both sides of the border rely on Line 5 to provide fuel for heating, manufacturing, airplanes, roads and vehicles. 

Walberg led colleagues last month in a letter to Biden about the economic effect that shutting down Line 5 could have. 

"Line 5 is essential to the lifeblood of the Midwest," Walberg wrote in the letter he led with Rep. Bob Latta, R-Ohio. 

"Furthermore, as we enter the winter months and temperatures drop across the Midwest, the termination of Line 5 will undoubtedly further exacerbate shortages and price increases in home heating fuels like natural gas and propane at a time when Americans are already facing rapidly rising energy prices, steep home heating costs, global supply shortages, and skyrocketing gas prices."

Staff Writer Riley Beggin contributed.