Treaty should take Whitmer out of Line 5 pipeline fight
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer finds herself in a place where a Michigan governor should not be — at the center of an international treaty dispute with America’s closest friend and trading partner.
Earlier this week, Canada formally invoked a never-before-used 1977 treaty with the United States that it says prevents Whitmer from shutting down the Line 5 pipeline. The line carries Canadian petroleum products beneath the Straits of Mackinac.
Whitmer has issued an executive order revoking the six-decade-old easement granted to the pipeline’s operator, Enbridge Inc. She claims Line 5 presents a danger to the Great Lakes.
Canadian officials notified U.S. District Judge Janet Neff it is asking the Biden administration to negotiate its treaty claim, contending the transit pipeline treaty limits actions that may harm the energy supply in either country.
The U.S. State Department said it “expects the U.S. and Canada will engage constructively in those negotiations. In addition to being one of our closest allies, Canada remains a key U.S. partner in energy trade as well as efforts to address climate change and protect the environment.”
That could be read as a rebuke of Whitmer’s angry criticism of Canada for invoking the treaty.
Line 5’s future is now a federal issue, and will be settled in talks between Ottawa and Washington. Given it is a matter of international commerce, that’s where the solution should lie.
Canada took the action after negotiations between Whitmer and Enbridge broke down.
The company wants to keep Line 5 open while it builds a concrete tunnel to house it 100 feet below the lakebed. The tunnel agreement was a product of a deal between Enbridge and former Gov. Rick Snyder. Enbridge is to pay the full $1 billion construction cost.
It remains the best solution for moving the petroleum while protecting the environment. Whitmer’s objections are aimed at fulfilling a campaign promise she made to environmentalists who hope to stop the movement of Canadian fossil fuels into the United States.
Pragmatism should now rule. The Biden administration, having already offended Canada by stopping construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, is not likely to add insult to that injury by allowing Whitmer to cut off Line 5. Not at a time when OPEC is restricting oil and tighter supplies are driving up costs for American consumers.
Whitmer cited the current oil spill from a ruptured pipeline off the coast of California as justification of her attacks on Line 5. But that actually makes the case for the tunnel. The California leak was apparently caused by a dragging ship’s anchor.
The Line 5 tunnel would prevent such an accident in the Straits.
Canada is appealing to the treaty to protect its economic, energy and environmental interests. In doing so, it is also protecting Michigan’s.
Line 5 is essential for supplying propane, jet fuel and other products to Michigan and the Midwest.
Without the pipeline, those products would have to be transported by rail, truck or ship, all of which present considerable risk to the lakes.
Whitmer is on the wrong the side of the Line 5 issue. She should stand down while the two nations work out their obligations and expectations under the treaty.