Nessel: Punishing Democrats over Line 5 not a good idea

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Punishing Democratic lawmakers for opposing the construction of a tunnel in the Straits of Mackinac "will not benefit" the building trades, Attorney General Dana Nessel cautioned Tuesday in a series of social media posts.

"If unions in this state have learned anything over the last decade, it is this: Republicans in the state Legislature are not your friend," Nessel added. "Democratic majorities are essential to Michigan regaining its status as a state which supports workers and their families."

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel

Nessel sent out the tweets in reaction to a Detroit News report on division within the Michigan Democratic Party over plans to construct a tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac to replace the 66-year-old Line 5 oil pipelines.

As some House Democrats have opposed the tunnel and court cases have left the project in limbo, building trades unions have decreased or halted their contributions to key House Democratic fundraising committees this year, an analysis of campaign finance records found.

But Nessel defended Democrats' work to support the building trades on other matters.

The Democratic Party is the party that worked for "decent wages and benefits" and safe working conditions for members of the trades, Nessel argued.

"Punishing Dems who are determined to preserve the sanctity of the Great Lakes due solely to the issue of Line 5 will not benefit the trades," Nessel wrote. "It is the definition of cutting off one(')s nose to spite its face."

Amid growing worries that Enbridge's Line 5 oil pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac could rupture and harm the Great Lakes, the Canadian company has proposed building the tunnel beneath the Straits to house its dual pipelines.

Plans for the $500 million project have gained the backing of building trades unions that often support Democratic candidates in Michigan. The tunnel agreement was brokered by Republican former Gov. Rick Snyder and mostly GOP lawmakers.

However, the tunnel project is opposed by Nessel, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and environmental groups, who want Line 5 decommissioned as soon as possible and don't like the idea of waiting for a tunnel to be constructed.

In the middle of the debate have been Democratic lawmakers who've usually been supported by both environmental groups and building trades unions.

Enbridge animation of potential tunnel under Straits of Mackinac

One Democratic lawmaker, Rep. Laurie Pohutsky, D-Livonia, said she'd been told lawmakers who opposed the tunnel would no longer be considered allies of the building trades.

Nessel's posts showed she is staking a claim on leadership of the Democratic Party, said John Sellek, CEO of Harbor Strategic Public Affairs who previously worked for Republican former Attorney General Bill Schuette.

"It will likely have more of a benefit for her long term stature in the party than changing the position of unions who are fighting for Great Lakes tunnel construction jobs," Sellek added. "It is an aggressive move but that is her style so we should expect to see more of the same."

Union officials have said they're pushing for a tunnel project that would protect the Great Lakes while also bringing jobs and putting people to work.

"If we don’t stand for that, what good are we as a union?” asked Dan McKernan, a spokesman for Operating Engineers Local 324.

Replacing Line 5 with the tunnel is the "best way to protect the Great Lakes and deliver the energy Michigan needs for jobs and economic development," Michigan Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Rich Studley tweeted Tuesday.

"The Michigan Chamber stands with labor in support of the Great Lakes Tunnel," Studley added. "Time for lawmakers to stand up & be counted."