The climatic costs of keeping line 5 open would be very high


Over the past four months, the Line 5 pipeline under the Great Lakes has transported 23 million gallons of oil and gas every day, defying orders from Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer to shut the line. Protests ensued. The Indian community of Bay Mills has barred the owner of the pipeline, Enbridge Energy, from accessing their land. And Enbridge and Whitmer were sentenced to mediation by the court. The saga grabbed national headlines, serving as the latest example of the struggle for the future of fossil fuel infrastructure in the United States.

Today, new evidence from scientists has revealed the implications of future plans for Line 5, including the construction of a tunnel over part of the pipeline and the continued flow of oil through the system. According to the analysis, the tunnel project and pipeline could generate an additional 27 million metric tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere each year and generate $ 41 billion in climate damage between 2027 and 2070.

Evidence was provided by Peter Erickson, senior scientist and director of climate policy for the Stockholm Environment Institute, as well as Peter Howard, economic policy expert at New York University School of Law. The findings were submitted in a case before the Michigan Civil Service Commission, which decides whether or not to grant Enbridge Energy a permit to cover part of Line 5 that crosses the Straits of Mackinac, an environmentally sensitive canal connecting Lake Michigan to Lake Huron. This is the first time that a Michigan agency has agreed to take greenhouse gas emissions into account in its analysis under the Michigan Environmental Protection Act.

“By allowing the continuous and long-term production and combustion of oil, the construction of the Project would run counter to, and therefore be incompatible with, the objectives of the Global Paris Agreement and Michigan’s Healthy Climate Plan,” Erickson said in testimony.

Michigan’s Healthy Climate Plan was created by Governor Gretchen Whitmer in 2020 to develop new clean energy jobs and put Michigan on track to achieve carbon neutrality by mid-century. The goals of the Paris Agreement are to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius before catastrophic climate change occurs. To achieve this goal, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has found that global oil production and use must decline by 3% per year until 2050.

“Enbridge is likely to argue that there is no workable alternative,” Margrethe Kearney, senior counsel at the Environmental Law & Policy Center, told Grist. But according to Elizabeth Stanton, founder of the Applied Economics Clinic, and other economic experts who testified in the permit case, Michigan’s energy needs can be met without the fossil fuels pumped through Line 5, primarily with the electrification and renewable energies.

Enbridge is expected to submit its testimony to the Michigan Public Service Commission in December. A decision will be made in 2022.

In other Line 5 news this week, mediation between Governor Whitmer and Enbridge officially ended on Tuesday without a settlement. Whitmer ordered Enbridge Energy to shut down Line 5 by May, citing concerns about a possible spill from the 68-year-old pipeline. But Enbridge refused, and today Line 5 continues to transport millions of gallons of oil every day.

Court-ordered mediation that began in April was standard procedure in an attempt to resolve the issue outside of court. The groups had originally scheduled an end date in August, but pushed it back to September. Now, with no final deal reached, the mediator plans to submit a further report with recommendations, which Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel says violates the terms of her mediator job. Nessel filed a complaint asking the judge to prohibit or disregard any additional reports filed by the mediator.

Against a backdrop of conflict in court, protests against line 5 continue. Earlier this month, groups united internationally to demand that the Canadian government stop supporting Line 5. Canadian officials, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, citing economic concerns and energy security, urged the court to block the closure of the pipeline, which carries oil from western Canada to Michigan and to eastern Canada.

“This is sort of when the climate problem comes to a head in Michigan,” Kearney told Grist, referring to Whitmer’s commitments to reduce carbon emissions and the recent flooding and other severe weather events in the city. State, probably made worse by climate change. “We have the opportunity to say, ‘Let’s not build more infrastructure for fossil fuels’. “


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