An important week in the Line 5 drama

As any Michigan student will know from their studies, in 1837, before Michigan was admitted to the union as a state, a dispute with Ohio had to be worked out. When the smoke cleared from that dispute, a contested strip of land that includes the city of Toledo was deeded to Ohio.

In exchange, all of the Upper Peninsula became part of Michigan.

This past week, those two geographical areas became front and center again in an international controversy that has many in the Midwest closely observing and discussing. The controversy surrounds Enbridge Inc.’s Line 5 oil and natural gas pipeline through the Straits of Mackinac, which in and of itself is nothing new.

What is new about that issue is that, now, Michigan’s attorney general, Dana Nessel, has found herself in the middle of the issue as U.P. legislators, union members, trade workers and the governor of Ohio all have entered into the discussions over Line 5. If it weren’t so serious, one would find the whole issue surreal with the growing cast of characters.

The minute Nessel was elected, her involvement in the issue began. But it really wasn’t until the end of May, when Nessel threatened to shut down the pipeline, that she became a lightning rod in the controversy. At the time, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was negotiating with officials from the Canadian-owned Enbridge about a plan to decommission the pipeline. Nessel said she would give the governor a few more weeks to hammer out a settlement before beginning legal action to shut down the pipeline’s operations. Previously, in March, she had issued a finding saying an agreement Enbridge reached with the previous governor, Rick Snyder, to create a tunnel to house the pipeline through the Straits, was unconstitutional.

Nessel’s threat to close the pipeline drew an immediate response from leaders in the Legislature. House Speaker Lee Chatfield, in discussing that ruling, said Nessel was “grasping at straws” and that her position was based on emotion, not facts. He said he believed the administration was trying to undermine legislative actions of the past.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey called Nessel’s ruling “shameful” and warned Whitmer and Nessel there could be a lawsuit over it.

And GOP state Rep. Beau LaFave from the U.P. went even further. Approximately 65% of the propane used in the U.P. each year flows through Line 5.

“With a renewed threat to shut down Line 5 in the next month — a move that would do irreparable harm to U.P families and businesses — Attorney General Dana Nessel has once again forgotten that she does not, in fact, make laws. Her job as the attorney general is to enforce the laws as written,” LaFave said. “It’s clear from the attorney general’s actions on this critical issue that she is too blinded by partisan politics and urban bias to make the right call for rural Michigan families.”

Nessel, never one to go down without a fight, turned to social media for a response.

“Let’s see, Mike Shirkey wants me impeached for respecting the reproductive rights of women, Beau LaFave believes I should be committed to a psychiatric asylum for protecting the Great Lakes,” she said. “Too bad burning female office-holders at the stake is no longer an option.”

And who said Michigan politics was not fun?

Fast-forward to the beginning of the month, when Enbridge folks said they would sue the Whitmer administration to honor the tunnel agreement they had with Snyder last year.

Nessel’s response: “We look forward to seeing them in court.”

At the same time, the Whitmer administration, according to Crains Detroit Business, began hearing more and more from trade unions and refinery workers in Michigan concerned about losing jobs related to the pipeline and the tunnel construction. The Operating Engineers Union and Michigan Chamber of Commerce joined forces and wrote a letter to Whitmer in support of the tunnel.

“The underground tunnel beneath the Straits will be the largest construction project in Michigan since we built the Mackinac Bridge,” the Michigan Chamber and Operating Engineers’ letter says. “It will create many good-paying construction jobs, allow the continued supply of essential energy to heat family homes in the Upper Peninsula, fuel businesses and jobs across our entire state, and protect the Great Lakes as Line 5 is removed from the floor of the Straits.”

All of this leads to the past week, when Whitmer received a letter from Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, asking her to do everything in her power to keep Line 5 operating.

“As you know, losing Line 5 would also put more than 1,000 good-paying union jobs at risk in Ohio and Michigan,” DeWine wrote. “Our states have much at risk in terms of potential fuel price spikes, lost jobs, airline schedule disruptions and lost transportation project funding.

“We ask that you please consider options to improve the safety of Line 5 that does not result in taking the pipeline offline.”

Whitmer showed with the auto insurance reform package that she signed on the porch of the Grand Hotel on May 30 that she can compromise when it is prudent.

The Line 5 issue is equally problematic, if not worse. It is going to take every trick in Whitmer’s book if she hopes to pull off another victory in this instance.

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