Line 5 tunnel authority bill approved, heads to Snyder's desk
Lansing — Legislation creating an authority to oversee the construction of a Line 5 utility tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac is headed to the governor's desk.
The Michigan House on Tuesday approved the legislation in a 74-34 vote. The Senate concurred with House amendments within an hour, quickly pushing the legislation to Gov. Rick Snyder's desk.
The adopted amendments included one by Minority Leader Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, that would hold the Mackinac Bridge Authority harmless from any lost revenue from utility lines that are moved into the utility tunnel. Another by Democratic Rep. Sara Cambensy of Marquette that would develop a plan to "engage this state's labor pool in the project."
The House Government Operations Committee approved the measure 3-0 Tuesday morning despite testimony from many in opposition to the bill. There were abstentions by Singh and Christine Greig, the Farmington Hills Democrat who is the incoming minority leader.
The rapid passage of the bill prevents the Legislature from considering language that would provide more financial security or set a date certain for Line 5's decommissioning, Singh said.
"We’ve not had enough time to vet all of these issues," he said.
Republican Rep. Lee Chatfield of Levering called the proposal the "right solution" and a "new chapter" for the state of Michigan. The pipeline runs through the Northern Michigan lawmaker's district.
"We as a chamber cannot wait any longer, because doing nothing is not an option," said Chatfield, the incoming House speaker.
Snyder said Tuesday he expects to sign the tunnel bill and make appointments to the new authority “fairly soon.”
The governor told reporters he hasn’t talked to Democratic Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer about the Line 5 tunnel project in great detail. But he disputed the idea he is racing to complete the deal with Enbridge before he is replaced by Whitmer, who campaigned on a pledge to decommission Line 5.
“This has been very systematic, just like a number of our other initiatives,” Snyder said, noting he created a pipeline task force in 2014, has reviewed studies and has reached agreements with Enbridge.
“This is sort of the accumulation of, you know, a four-year work project or longer,” he said. “So when people say all of a sudden you decided to do this, that’s not an accurate representation at all.”
Asked if he expects a lawsuit over the tunnel agreement or legislation, Snyder said “many things go to court” and told reporters “we do what we do best and assume we’re doing it on a legal basis.”
The swift passage likely will facilitate an agreement between Enbridge and the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority, which would be the third and final pact between the Canadian energy company and state before year's end.
Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, defended the bill Tuesday morning against criticism that the issue is being rushed before a new Democratic administration takes over. He noted that officials have been discussing solutions to address Enbridge’s aging Line 5 for roughly four years — an argument that Gov. Rick Snyder made to The Detroit News editorial board on Friday.
“People elected us, too,” Casperson said. “We have a right to do this.”
Snyder has been working to finish the deal before he leaves office and is replaced by incoming Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who has called for Line 5’s closure.
The 1953 dual pipelines have long concerned environmental groups, who have warned about the risk of a major oil spill in the Great Lakes. Snyder announced an agreement with Enbridge in October that would require the energy company to finance the up to $500 million, 10-year construction.
Plans initially called for the Mackinac Bridge Authority to oversee the pipeline, but legislators amended the plan to allow for a separate authority after hearing from former bridge authority members opposed to the idea.
Should the bill gain the necessary approvals, three people would be appointed to the corridor authority board, with no more than two Republican appointees. The corridor authority would then consider a construction agreement with Enbridge.
Opponents thanked the Senate for removing the Mackinac Bridge Authority as the oversight body for the tunnel, but argued the bridge authority was still too involved in the issue.
“We’re really not completely out of the bill,” said William Gnodtke, a former member of the Mackinac Bridge Authority. Gnodtke also criticized the $4.5 million price tag for oversight of the tunnel’s construction and operation.
“I agree it should be a neutral party, but it shouldn’t be done on the backs of the taxpayers of the state of Michigan,” he said.
Like Gnodtke, Patty Peek of the Straits of Mackinac Alliance opposed the legislation because it failed to fully remove the bridge authority from the bill and because it allows the pipeline to stay in place during construction.
“You must not saddle Pure Michigan with 10 more years of a damaged Line 5,” Peek said.
Staff Writer Jonathan Oosting contributed