Heard on MichMash

Biden Stays Silent on Line 5 as Efforts to Shut It Down Become More Complicated

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Image credit: Courtesy Whitney Gravelle

Last week, Canada invoked a 1977 treaty to halt efforts to shut down the line, effectively pulling Biden into a controversy he did not want to get involved with.

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Efforts to shut down Enbridge Energy’s Line 5 oil and gas pipeline are becoming more complicated.

On MichMash, Jake Neher and Cheyna Roth look at the Canadian government’s latest move to block Michigan’s attempts to stop the flow of oil in the Straits of Mackinac and talk with Crain’s Detroit Business Senior Editor Chad Livengood about President Biden’s silence on the issue during his visit to Michigan last week.


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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel have been working toward the goal of shutting down the pipeline because of fears that a leak would devastate the Great Lakes. 

We bear all of the risk for a foreign company to just move their product through, and it’s ridiculous. We gotta shut it down,” said then-candidate Gretchen Whitmer back in 2018 during an interview with WDET and its Detroit Journalism Cooperative partners.

Since then, the state has ordered Line 5 to be shut down. But it’s now in a prolonged court battle that seems to be at a standstill.

Canada depends on Line 5 to deliver oil and natural gas to heat homes and businesses all over Ontario and Quebec. Last week, the Canadian government formally invoked a 1977 treaty to halt efforts to shut down the line. The transit pipeline treaty guarantees the uninterrupted flow of oil and natural gas between the United States and Canada. It has never been invoked since it was signed 44 years ago. 

The move effectively pulls the Biden Administration into this fight that it really did not want to get involved with. Although it’s an international pipeline, Michigan has been fighting for jurisdiction over the issue. Until now, that has insulated Biden from the political tightrope this represents — trying to balance the ardent concerns of environmentalists and many others in the Democratic party with the desires of some unions, which could gain a lot of jobs from Enbridge’s desire to replace the pipeline with a new span that would be housed in a tunnel buried underneath the straits. 

Here was the President of the United States standing here, the day after Canada did this major move that has major implications for our U.S.-Canadian relations. And he didn’t say a single word about it. And he’s gonna stand in the union hall of the union that has the most at stake in this whole fight.” — Chad Livengood, Crain’s Detroit Business

Meanwhile, many environmentalists are pointing to what we’re seeing off the coast of California with the massive oil spill there, which — evidence suggests — may have been caused by a ship’s anchor hooking, dragging and tearing an underwater oil pipeline. That’s the exact scenario environmentalists have been warning for years may impact Line 5. In fact, in April of 2018, a tug boat’s six-ton anchor struck Line 5, denting the pipeline and releasing 800 gallons of mineral oil into the straits.

Environmental groups say the devastation we’re seeing in California, including the widespread death of wildlife, the closure of popular beaches, and untold environmental impacts, is what we could see if there’s a similar oil spill in the Great Lakes.

All of this was happening while President Joe Biden was making a trip to Michigan to promote his infrastructure and Build Back Better packages. Despite all of this Line 5-related news happening while he was in the state, Biden stayed quiet on the matter.

The great irony here is he was standing in the training grounds of the Operating Engineers Local 324,” says Crain’s Detroit Business Senior Editor Chad Livengood, who wrote a column last week about Biden’s silence on the issue. “This is the same union that would benefit from the construction of a new tunnel to house Line 5.”


Related: Future of Line 5 Uncertain After Enbridge Ignores Whitmer’s Order to Shut Down


Here was the President of the United States standing here, the day after Canada did this major move that has major implications for our U.S.-Canadian relations. And he didn’t say a single word about it, and he’s gonna stand in the union hall of the union that has the most at stake in this whole fight,” notes Livengood.

The direction this saga takes going forward is probably going to depend on how the federal government reacts. Until we find out where the President himself is on all of this, we’re all left wondering if there’s any resolution in sight.


More from MichMash:

Michigan’s Top Environmental Regulator Defends New PFAS Standards, Line 5 Permits

Benton Harbor’s Water Crisis Finally Starting to Get More Attention After Three Years

Solutions for Worsening Plastic Pollution in Great Lakes: “It’s Not Enough Just to Pick Up Trash”

Infrastructure Bill May Help Address Flooding in Michigan, But Only If There’s a Plan, Dingell Says

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Jake Neher, Senior Producer, Detroit Today; Host, MichMash

Jake Neher is senior producer for Detroit Today and host of MichMash for 101.9 WDET. He previously reported on the Michigan Legislature for the Michigan Public Radio Network.

Jake.Neher@wdet.org Follow @GJNeher

Cheyna Roth, Reporter

Cheyna has interned with Michigan Radio and freelanced for WKAR public radio in Lansing. She’s also done some online freelancing and worked on documentary films.

CRoth@mlive.com Follow @Cheyna_R

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