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Whitmer must avert trade face-off over Line 5 with Canada

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is recklessly placing Michigan at the center of an international trade showdown with her order that the Line 5 petroleum pipeline must cease operations by today.

The governor revoked Enbridge Inc.’s 67-year-old right-of-way across the Straits of Mackinac last November, short-circuiting an existing and sensible agreement that would replace the pipeline with one encased in a concrete tunnel deep below the lakebed.

Canada wasn’t pleased, to say the least.

Line 5 is vital to its robust energy economy, transporting 540,000 barrels per day of petroleum products from the rich Alberta oil patch to the United States. Included is much of the propane used as heating fuel in Michigan. It also provides resources to Michigan’s manufacturing base.

Canadians, who love the Great Lakes as much as we do in Michigan, are vigorously opposing Whitmer’s action. The country’s natural resources minister called keeping the pipeline open a “non-negotiable” item, and entreaties have been made to the White House to intervene.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau discussed Line 5 with President Joe Biden in meetings in February.

The Canadians have expressed their intent to pursue legal action to keep Line 5 operating should Whitmer hold to her Wednesday deadline.

Enbridge, a Canadian company, is already challenging the governor in federal court, and says it will not close the pipeline unless ordered to do so by a state or federal judge.

The governor contends Enbridge has violated terms of its easement by not properly maintaining the line, citing structural deficiencies she says could lead to a catastrophic oil spill. Enbridge disputes that claim.

Line 5 under the Straits has never had a leak, although other Enbridge pipelines have, including one in 2010 that sent roughly 1 million gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River in west Michigan.

The Biden administration has yet to signal where it stands on Whitmer’s shutdown edict. The president on his first day in office signed an executive order halting construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which was also intended to carry crude oil from Canada to the U.S.

But since then, his administration has continued former President Donald Trump’s legal defense of two existing, Enbridge-owned pipelines that also are being targeted for shutdown.

Whitmer is placing the president in a difficult position. The U.S. is the biggest customer of Canadian oil, importing 80% of that nation’s crude output.

The oil industries of the two nations are deeply connected. The Canadians have pledged to work with the U.S. to reduce carbon emissions and move together toward a future less dependent on fossil fuels.

The arbitrary closure of a key piece of energy infrastructure risks damaging that cooperative relationship.

Canada has suggested, should Whitmer enforce her deadline, it could invoke the 1977 Transit Pipelines Treaty, a never-used pact that bars either country from interfering with the cross-border flow of oil.

That would trigger an arbitration process the U.S. would rather avoid with its most important trading partner.

The much better option is for Whitmer to reach a settlement with Enbridge during the current court-ordered mediation that keeps Line 5 open while placing construction of the strait’s tunnel on a fast track.

Former Gov. Rick Snyder bargained that sensible deal with Enbridge, and required the company to pick up the full $500 million tab.

It’s a long-term solution that protects the Great Lakes, the nation’s energy security and good relations with a valued trading partner.

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