Michigan’s water economy critical


In Michigan, our water and our Great Lakes enrich our lives, power our economy, and are a key part of our history. Water first opened the state to trade. Water powered the rise of our mighty industry — but was fouled and polluted in the process.

Today, because of lots of hard work and dedication to reclaim our waters, the cleaned-up Great Lakes are a newly powerful economic engine for Michigan. They are the central ingredient in a Pure Michigan lifestyle.

In a world where most lack access to such clean, beautiful water, our Great Lakes and their 3,400 miles of Michigan freshwater coastline are a priceless economic asset. And when we do put a pricetag on our water — as we have done with a very rigorous economic impact analysis — it is enormous. One in five Michigan jobs and $60 billion dollars annually are already linked to this emerging, clean Blue Economy.

This new clean Blue Economy is at risk today.

Enbridge Energy’s Line 5 underneath our Great Lakes, at the Straits of Mackinac, poses a huge environmental, public health and economic threat.

The same folks who brought us the largest inland oil spill in recent history into the Kalamazoo River are asking to be trusted that their 63-year-old pipe has an “endless” lifetime use. Or, if it does fail, their rapid response effort will plug the hole in “minutes.”

Enbridge keeps trotting out “experts” to attempt to justify the economic benefits of these aging Line 5 pipes. Never mind that most of the 23 million gallons of oil per day flowing through Line 5’s pipes never see use in Michigan.

The devastation of any spill to the economy would be huge. And it’s more than just the costs of cleanup and repair and potentially whole communities without drinking water for days or weeks.

These costs alone could be billions of dollars depending on the size of spill. It’s also the lost dollars and jobs as residents and visitors stay away from Mackinac Island, Traverse City and the Leelanau Peninsula, and potentially sections of the Lake Michigan “gold” and Lake Huron sunrise coasts.

The biggest potential negative economic impact is the long-term damage done to our Pure Michigan brand. Over recent years we have begun to see the economic payoff of marketing our beautiful state, and our cleaned-up lakes and rivers, as a choice destination and a great state in which to live, work and operate your business. After a big Lakes spill — who will want to move to an environmental disaster area?

Why take the risk that is Line 5? Michigan should turn off the oil spigot before we do irreparable harm to perhaps our most powerful economic engine, our Michigan waters and Great Lakes.

John Austin is director of the Michigan Economic Center, and author of leading economic studies of role of water in the economy, including the Brookings Institution’s “Healthy Waters, Strong Economy.”