September 24, 2020
LANSING, Michigan — Today, on behalf of the Michigan Climate Action Network (MiCAN) and itself, the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) filed an opposition with the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) to Enbridge’s recent motion attempting to exclude climate change risks from the tunnel siting hearings.
Today’s filing occurred on the same day that Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an Executive Order to create the Michigan Healthy Climate Plan that puts the state on a path towards becoming fully carbon-neutral by 2050. ELPC and MiCAN’s filing calls attention to the importance of climate change for Michigan’s highest profile and most controversial fossil fuel project.
“Today ELPC and MiCAN filed a response to Enbridge’s request that the MPSC not consider the climate impacts of an oil tunnel in their permitting decision,” said Kate Madigan, MiCAN’s executive director. “This request in the middle of a climate crisis is dangerous and it is part of a pattern of denial that has delayed action on climate change for decades. The climate impacts from a new oil tunnel that can operate for 99 more years must be considered by the MPSC when looking at environmental impacts.
“As Governor Whitmer said today when she announced her climate executive order, we are in the middle of a climate crisis that is clearly impacting our state. Not including climate change in looking at environmental impacts willfully ignores science and the growing impacts we see with our own eyes, like the wildfires out West and flooding across our state this year,” Madigan said.
The MPSC is obligated under state law to consider environmental impacts when evaluating Enbridge’s request to relocate Line 5 inside a tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac in Lake Michigan. The commission must also consider alternatives that are less damaging to the state’s environment.
“Enbridge is erroneously arguing that emission of greenhouse gases — universally understood to be a pollutant — is outside the scope of the environmental review that must be considered by the PSC under state law in any siting permit request,” said Margrethe Kearney, senior attorney at ELPC. “What is shocking — especially in light of Gov. Whitmer’s announcement today on climate — is that the MPSC Staff supports Enbridge’s attempt to exclude from environmental review the impact of greenhouse gas emissions. Staff acknowledges that the Michigan Environmental Protection Act requires the Commission to consider the environmental impact of the project — but argues that climate change is not an environmental impact. This is directly contrary to Gov. Whitmer’s executive order stating that: ‘Climate change already degrades Michigan’s environment, hurts our economy, and threatens the health and well-being of our residents, with communities of color and low-income Michiganders suffering most.’”
“Both Enbridge and Staff shift the blame for climate change to the public — claiming that individual customers’ choices are what cause climate change, not the siting of oil pipelines. Enbridge — a Canadian company shipping Canadian oil through Michigan that is destined for use outside of Michigan — makes the absurd claim that investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure has no impact on climate change. We expect companies like Enbridge to argue that climate change doesn’t matter; we are dismayed that employees representing the State of Michigan agree,” said Kearney.
ELPC and MiCAN are intervening on behalf of Michigan residents who will be subjected to tremendous burdens if greenhouse gas emissions lead to accelerated climate change during construction of the pipeline tunnel and when fossil fuels begin flowing through the new pipeline.
“Climate change increases the number of extreme weather events, resulting in Michiganders experiencing more storm-related damage to their homes and areas they recreate, greater impact on electric utility infrastructure, and increases pressure on other infrastructure such as dams. Michigan residents who use or rely upon agricultural products will likely experience decreased crop yields and correspondingly higher prices as a result of climate change,” said Kearney.
ELPC and MiCAN are intervening to make sure the MPSC has a more complete set of data regarding the need for a new tunnel and pipeline, as well as the environmental and climate impacts of the proposed project. The tunnel and new pipeline is intended to replace Enbridge’s damaged 67-year-old pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac that carries 23 million gallons of oil every day and already threatens to release oil and natural gas liquid into powerful currents that could carry contaminated water for miles in every direction.