House passes bills to protect Straits from oil spills
Lansing — The same day the state announced an agreement it hopes will protect the Great Lakes against a spill from the Line 5 oil pipeline in Northern Michigan, House lawmakers passed legislation that would prohibit vessel operators from dropping anchor in the Straits of Mackinac.
The four bills, passed with bipartisan support Wednesday, would prohibit anchoring in the straits, install signage warning boaters of the ban and establish sentencing guidelines for violations. The bills also would extend whistleblower protections to people who report boaters who violate the no-anchor zone.
The bills would make anchoring in the straits a felony punishable by up to two years and potentially include a fine of up to $10,000. A second offense would be punishable by up to five years in prison and a potential fine of up to $15,000.
A fifth bill would establish spill reporting, prevention and response plan guidelines as well as penalties for spilling oil or gas in the straits. The fee for the DEQ to review a company’s plans would be $12,500. Oil release fines start at $37,500 but could cost up to $150,000 if they result from gross negligence or willful misconduct.
The bill exempts the reports required of companies from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act because of security concerns, said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Lee Chatfield.
Many of the reports required under the bill are already submitted to the federal government, the Levering Republican said, but “the state of Michigan has no record of them, we have no access to them and we have no authority to approve them.”
The legislation ensures the state is part of the permitting and regulatory framework when it comes to oil and natural gas transmission through the state’s most vital resource, Chatfield said.
“We swim in this water, we drink this water, we boat in this water,” he said. “This is what makes us Pure Michigan.”
The legislation comes months after an April anchor strike severed electric transmission cables in the straits and damaged Enbridge’s Line 5.
Environmentalists have been calling for the shutdown of Line 5’s segment through the Straits of Mackinac, worried about a spill similar to the 2010 oil spill in the Kalamazoo River. Line 5 includes two 20-inch structures and carries about 23 million gallons of oil and liquid natural gas a day from western Canada to eastern Canada.
On Wednesday, the state announced Enbridge Inc. had agreed to pay for construction of a nearly four-mile tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac to house a replacement for the line. The utility corridor roughly 100 feet below the lake bed is expected to take seven to 10 years to complete and cost $350 million to $500 million.