A call to protect the Great Lakes

U.S. Reps. Candice Miller and Debbie Dingell

The value of the Great Lakes to the people lucky enough to live here is both immeasurable and beyond dispute.

Our lakes provide drinking water for millions, are the foundation for $7 billion recreational fishing and $16 billion boating industries and, for those of us who call Michigan home, the sense we are uniquely blessed among the people of this planet with an abundance of natural beauty and wonder.

Of course, with that blessing comes the obligation, assumed by generations, to preserve and protect the lakes for our children and our children’s children.

That’s why we were pleased last month when the U.S. Department of State reopened public comments on applications for permits to transport liquefied hydrocarbons through pipelines beneath the Detroit and St. Clair rivers.

The permit applications from Houston-based Plains LPG Services seek continuing authorization for use of the pipelines (six beneath the St. Clair River and one below the Detroit River) which move hydrocarbons across the U.S./Canada border.

Two of the St. Clair pipelines were constructed nearly a century ago (approved by the administration of President Woodrow Wilson in 1918). The Detroit River pipeline was built in the 1950s to carry brine waste from underground salt mines, and converted in the 1970s for hydrocarbons.

Plains LPG was required to seek re-authorization after its 2012 purchase of the lines, and was initially granted a presidential permit, required for pipelines which cross international borders, two years ago.

But, according to what State Department officials said were “incomplete” records, the permit for the St. Clair pipelines was restricted to “light liquid hydrocarbons,” presumably excluding crude oil. Plains subsequently notified the department that its predecessor had received permission in the 1970s to transport liquid hydrocarbons including crude oil through the original two 8-inch lines (retrofitted in the ’70s with 5-inch interior lines).

The State Department reopened the review process last year. But it went relatively unnoticed, and the public comment period had closed before many potentially interested parties were aware the applications were pending.

Acting on a request from our offices, the department agreed to extend public comment for an additional 30 days until April 14. Federal officials will also conduct an interagency review of the proposed permits to determine if approving them is in the national interest.

That decision was prudent.

The pipelines in question, which supply fuels necessary for survival and comfort to us and our Canadian neighbors, may well be in the national interest. But we owe it to ourselves and generations to come to ensure they do not pose an unacceptable level of risk to the health of the Great Lakes.

Plains LPG has said the century old lines are not in service, have not been for some time and that the company has no plans to reactivate them. The company also said none of the lines in use carry crude oil.

It is important to know whether those assurances are open-ended or subject to change. Crude oil pipeline spills have been relatively uncommon. But they are potentially costly and devastating to the environment. A pipeline breach in the rapid current of the St. Clair River could quickly become catastrophic.

The 30-day public comment extension provides those who care for the Great Lakes an opportunity to be heard, and we urge you to take it. To submit comments, go to: regulations.gov.

Rep. Candice Miller represents Michigan’s 10th Congressional District and is the only member from Michigan on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Rep. Debbie Dingell represents Michigan’s 12th Congressional District and sits on the Natural Resources Committee.