Senate GOP approves plan for new oil pipeline under Straits of Mackinac


  • Michigan Municipal League via Flickr
  • Governor Rick Snyder.

Senate Republicans on Wednesday approved legislation that will allow a controversial oil and propane pipeline to be built under the Straits of Mackinac.

The bill creates a Mackinac Utility Corridor Authority to work with Canadian oil giant Enbridge to build a $500 million tunnel 100 feet beneath the lake bed. The tunnel will replace Line 5, a pipeline originally installed in 1953 that runs along the bottom of the straits.

That current pipeline has already spilled 1.1 million gallons of oil into the lakes. Critics say there's no need to replace the line because the infrastructure is in place to transport oil elsewhere, and the nation needs to wean itself of oil. The new plan comes with a risk of a major oil spill in the Great Lakes, but that hasn't worried Republicans.

Critics also point out that Enbridge is responsible for a 2010 oil spill in the Kalamazoo River, the costliest inland oil spill in U.S. history, made worse when the company misread alarms and boosted oil flow for 17 hours. Since then, Enbridge has missed line inspections and downplayed damage to the pipelines, causing Gov. Rick Snyder to say he was "no longer satisfied with the operational activities and public information tactics that have become status quo for Enbridge."

Snyder and Republicans are rushing to pass the legislation in lame duck because of public opposition and because Democratic Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General-elect Dana Nessel arrive in January. They've said they oppose the plan and will decommission the current pipeline. The bill goes to the state House next week.

It's also worth noting that the GOP lost the popular vote in the state House in 2014 and 2018, and only won by 3,000 votes in 2016. But Republicans gerrymandered the state's legislative districts in 2010, so the GOP currently holds a 63-47 majority. Were the districts not gerrymandered, then the party wouldn't be able to pass unpopular legislation during lame duck.

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