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Lansing — Democratic presidential hopeful Jay Inslee, who has made climate change the focus of his campaign, is speaking out against Enbridge's Line 5 and calling on other candidates to join him in opposing the oil and gas pipeline.

The dual pipelines that run below the Straits of Mackinac in Michigan — along with a proposed tunnel that would house a replacement — are "a clear and present threat to the health of the Great Lakes and to our climate,” Inslee said in a statement.

“They threaten the clean drinking water that millions depend upon. And they would lock in decades of climate pollution that we can’t afford.”

The Washington state governor’s comments, which seek to thrust a regional issue on to the national stage, come roughly three weeks before he and 19 other Democratic presidential candidates will gather in Detroit for their second round of televised debates of the primary season.

Activists who are urging the Democratic National Committee to hold a separate debate on climate change are expected to protest outside the Fox Theatre on July 30, the opening night in Detroit.

Inslee, considered a long shot for the Democratic nomination, campaigned last month in Detroit, where he met with environmental justice advocates and residents near the Marathon Oil Refinery in Michigan’s most polluted zip code.

"When the Democratic debates come to Michigan later this month, the Enbridge Line should be a major topic," Inslee said. "I hope that every fellow Democratic candidate for president joins me in opposing this dangerous pipeline." 

Enbridge insists its 66-year-old pipeline is safe and provides an important source of propane that helps heat homes in the Upper Peninsula. But the Canadian firm wants to move Line 5 into a new $500 million tunnel beneath the Straits, which it had pledged to pay for as part of an agreement with Republican former Gov. Rick Snyder.

"The tunnel solution is the best long-term opportunity to secure the energy needs of the State while making an already safe pipeline even safer," Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy said Wednesday.

But new Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel have effectively blocked the project. The future of the tunnel and pipeline are now tied up in court after Whitmer and Enbridge were unable to negotiate a faster construction timeline.

Ohio GOP Gov. Mike DeWine recently urged Whitmer to keep oil flowing to border refineries that supply gasoline, diesel and jet fuel to his state and Southeast Michigan.

Michigan environmental groups praised his Inslee’s stand on Line 5 and echoed his call for other Democratic presidential candidates to weigh in.

“We call on Michigan lawmakers, as well as all other presidential candidates, to stand with Gov. Inslee by supporting Attorney General Nessel and Gov. Whitmer’s efforts to decommission the Line 5 pipeline without an oil tunnel replacement,” said Sean McBrearty, Michigan program organizer for Clean Water Action.

joosting@detroitnews.com

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