Opinion: Snyder rushes to lock in oil tunnel for 99 years
Although people grumble about the slow pace of government, the time to really worry is often when things speed up under a cloud of ambiguity.
After nearly eight years in office, less than three months before his term expires, and more than three years after he acknowledged the clear and present danger to the Great Lakes posed by the Line 5 petroleum pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac, the governor of Michigan is suddenly trying to fast-track a deal that could bind the people of Michigan to a failing Line 5 and a risky replacement oil tunnel for 99 years.
What’s the rush?
The agreement announced Oct. 3 between Gov. Rick Snyder and Line 5 operator Enbridge will keep the existing pipelines running – and risking a major oil spill – for at least another 7 to 10 years with no assurance that his dream tunnel under the Straits will ever be built.
Snyder has announced an agreement that:
• Allows Enbridge to consider a tunnel under the public trust bottom lands of the Straits – without being required to build it – while legitimizing the continuation of the dangerous existing Line 5 indefinitely.
• Attempts to use the Mackinac Bridge Authority, established in 1952, as a shell company to take possession of a private oil tunnel and lease it to Enbridge for 99 years; this structure seeks to circumvent environmental, water, public participation, and public trust laws tied to Michigan’s Constitution of 1963 and required for Enbridge to obtain lawful authorization to continue use of the existing Line 5 and any future tunnel.
• Fails to require Enbridge to protect property owners, businesses, tribal fishing, the Great Lakes and their public trust uses from “all damage or losses,” as the 1953 Easement mandates, by accepting only $1.8 billion in financial assurances for an oil spill danger estimated to exceed $6 billion.
In his final months in office, the governor must not forget his solemn, legal duty to serve the paramount public interests of Michiganders and protect the Great Lakes. Instead, the governor’s tunnel deal is a reward for Enbridge’s gross negligence, which caused the million-gallon oil spill into the Kalamazoo River watershed in 2010, costing more than $1 billion in damage and cleanup.
Experts commissioned by FLOW estimate at least $6 billion in environmental and economic damage could result from a Line 5 oil spill in the Straits of Mackinac. The governor’s oil tunnel pact does absolutely nothing to address these potential damages to the Great Lakes, drinking water, shoreline communities, tourism, local businesses, and property owners.
The suggestion that the tunnel offers a real solution, or that electrical and fiber optic cables could be added to the tunnel for public benefit, is simply a ploy meant to sweeten the bitter taste for Michiganders.
The Enbridge oil tunnel would benefit only a private Canadian corporation. This deal fails the test of environmental and taxpayer protection – and good government. It should be rejected by the people of Michigan.
Dave Dempsey is senior advisor for FLOW, a not-for-profit Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City.