Opinion: Energy infrastructure plays critical role

Brigham McCown

The ongoing debate over upgrading Michigan’s Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac is a telling example of political dysfunction threatening our nation’s infrastructure.

In this instance, a piece of energy infrastructure, constructed nearly 70 years ago, is at the center of a political debate. Last year, the pipeline operator of Line 5 announced a $500 million investment that would significantly enhance both the safety and security of the line.

Fresh nuts, bolts and fittings are ready to be added to the east leg of the Line 5 pipeline near St. Ignace on June 8, 2017.

Yet to some nothing short of removal is acceptable, as seen by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s lawsuit seeking to close down Line 5 altogether.

Such actions are unwise, as nearly two-thirds of all energy we use on a daily basis is delivered through America’s 2.8 million miles of pipelines. This critical infrastructure is not optional, it is required to safely and efficiently transport the energy supplies the country requires. Norman Y. Mineta, the former secretary of transportation, once likened pipelines to arteries in our bodies, critical pathways to deliver the lifeblood of the American economy.

The Line 5 upgrade is an important part of maintaining this essential network. The pipeline has undergone rigorous review in accordance with federal, state and local permitting and regulatory requirements. The project has also garnered widespread bipartisan support in the Michigan Legislature, gaining approval by a 74-34 vote during a December 2018 session.

The project was widely regarded as an “appropriate compromise” that will keep propane and crude oil flowing to customers in Michigan, further safeguard the environment, and create jobs in the process.

The project will secure a reliable, safe flow of energy for decades to come to communities including some in the Upper Peninsula. While we should all look forward to the day when oil and gas supplies are no longer needed, that day has yet to come.

The fallacy of those seeking to constrain infrastructure projects like Line 5 is that opposing new infrastructure projects will actually make us less safe while simultaneously raising energy prices for consumers, because these products will still find a way to market, except finding a way to market means being transported less safely and more expensively, a basic misunderstanding that needs to be corrected.

Lawsuits aimed at stopping new infrastructure are not helpful, and as we have seen above, will actually undermine environmental safety in the long run, a key fact we need to keep in mind when evaluating our transportation and infrastructure industries.

The answer is for us all to understand the critical role energy infrastructure fulfills in our daily lives. Until we no longer need gas or propane to heat our homes, gasoline to fuel our cars and chemicals to make the items we use and buy, these commodities are not optional, and there is no transportation fairy to bring them to us.

Brigham McCown is a domestic and foreign policy expert who has held senior posts in three presidential administrations, multiple presidential campaigns, and two presidential transition teams. He previously led the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, and teaches ethics, law and foreign policy and at Miami University.