Editorial: Rush to shut Line 5 would harm state

The Detroit News

Campaign promises don't always translate into sound policy, as we've learned from President Donald Trump.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer promised on the campaign trail that she'd shut down Enbridge Line 5 on her first day in office. And on Day One, she instructed Attorney General Dana Nessel to begin doing just that.

Nessel's charge is to find legal flaws in the deal former Gov. Rick Snyder negotiated with Enbridge to bury Line 5 in a tunnel deep below the Straits of Mackinac, and have the energy transport company pick up the $500 million cost. 

It is a sound solution that takes into account both the need to protect the Great Lakes and the critical function Line 5 plays in supplying petroleum products throughout Michigan. 

The tunnel will be built over the next 7 to 10 years, and in the meantime, the deal requires Enbridge to put up $1.8 billion in assurance money to cover damages should a leak occur in the 60-year-old pipeline. Precautions are also in place to shut down the pipeline during rough weather.

If the new governor and attorney general are successful in scuttling the deal and closing Line 5, the 540,000 barrels of light oil and natural gas it transports each day will still need to come to market. 

Those products, including propane used for heating, are vital to Michigan consumers and businesses. 

Without the pipeline, hundreds more tanker trucks will take to the highways to move the oil and gas, along with more freighters on the lakes.

Both modes of transport are riskier and less environmentally friendly than the pipeline, which has never had an oil or natural gas leak.

Whitmer has not offered her thoughts on alternative methods of transporting the products, or for replacing them in an economy still dependent on fossil fuels.

"Rushing ahead with a Line 5 shutdown would force the delivery of oil and gas by riskier methods. "

It would be reckless to shut down Line 5 without presenting solutions for replacing its capacity.

Nessel is challenging the deal, approved by the Legislature, because it was "passed without the care and caution" expected for such an issue. 

In reality, the deal was the result of several months of negotiations between Snyder and Enbridge officials. A number of options were offered for assuring the safety of Line 5, and the utility tunnel was considered the best. Once Line 5 is routed through the tunnel, there is a near zero chance of a leak that would impact the Great Lakes.

There may be additional safeguards that can be put in place while the tunnel is under construction. If so, Whitmer is right to press for them. Preserving the lakes should always be a top priority.

At the very least, Whitmer should more carefully study the deal Snyder put together, and if she doesn't like it, develop a comprehensive plan that takes into account the necessity of moving Line 5's products. 

But rushing ahead with a Line 5 shutdown that would force the delivery of oil and gas by riskier methods is not in the best interest of the lakes or of Michigan residents.