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Canadian pressure is mounting on the Michigan governor to withdraw the Enbridge pipeline


Whitmer administration officials say formal calls are coming from almost every corner of Canada to allow the crossing of Enbridge Line 5 under the Straits of Mackinac after a May deadline set by the governor several months ago when she was revoking the pipeline announced, can continue to operate. Relief for violations in the past.

Diplomats and business leaders across the border say the move is putting Canada’s jobs at risk and they are threatening to escalate matters with new U.S. President Joe Biden trying to cope with the desire of climate voters calling for a fossil fuel move an improvement in internationality brings tense relationship under Donald Trump.

Local and provincial officials in Ontario, where the 645 mile pipeline in Sarnia leads back to Canada, are urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to take the matter directly to Biden.

“At some point there will be some discussions with the new government, be it directly between our prime minister and the president or at cabinet level on both sides. That’s still in the air, “said Joe Comartin, former member of parliament and Canada’s consul general in Detroit.

“Enbridge’s position in general, and we support it, is that the state does not have the jurisdiction or authority to close this (pipeline),” Comartin said.

FILE – In this June 8, 2017 file photo, fresh nuts, bolts, and fittings can be added to the east section of the pipeline near St. Ignace as Enbridge prepares to pass the east and west sides of the Line 5 pipeline under Test the Pipeline The Mackinac Strait in Mackinaw City, Michigan, Enbridge Inc., filed for state and federal permits to build an oil pipeline tunnel under the Michigan Waterway connecting two of the Great Lakes on Wednesday, April 2020. (Dale G Young / Detroit News on AP) / Detroit News on AP)AP

In November, Whitmer rewarded environmental groups and Enbridge critics by ending a 68-year-old easement that allowed the company to operate two oil pipelines under the Great Lakes adjacent to the Mackinac Bridge. The move has been announced by many with concern that the aging pipeline poses a risk for oil spills, but has been criticized by pro-business and working groups who say the pipeline is necessary to support energy jobs and provide heating fuel for households in Michigan .

Whitmer gave Enbridge until May to cease operations, allegedly a date chosen to allow time to identify alternative fuel supply issues in the Upper Peninsula, where the pipeline carries propane for heating in residential areas .

Enbridge pushed back, stating that the shutdown will not be honored without a court order. The company is seeking permission to build a huge $ 500 million tunnel under the strait to house a replacement for the pipeline.

“We’re getting a lot of pressure from Canada,” said Hugh McDiarmid, Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) spokesman, which is reviewing several Enbridge permit applications for the tunnel. “Every or almost every province has written a letter to keep the pipeline open.”

McDiarmid said several business organizations and chambers of commerce had also advocated Enbridge.

McDiarmid said he helped arrange a briefing on the matter for members of the Canada Desk at the U.S. Department of State earlier this month, which is directed to officials through members of the International Joint Commission, an independent binational body that deals with border waters from Michigan turned disputes along the US-Canada border.

Canadian news sites cited a litany of local, provincial, and federal officials concerned about a Line 5 shutdown and seeking to lobby the Michigan governor. Canada’s Ambassador to the United States, Kirsten Hillman, reportedly spoke to Whitmer, and Ontario Prime Minister Doug Ford has also written to the governor urging them to reconsider.

Aaron Henry, senior director at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, claims Michigan is in breach of a Transit Pipelines contract to operate cross-border pipelines signed by the United States and Canada in 1977.

The cost of oil spills in the street is $ 6.3 billion

The Enbridge Pipeline maintenance teams place an oil retention boom in the St. Clair River during a large-scale training exercise in Marysville in 2016. The exercise simulated a 13-minute spillage of 5,000 barrels from Line 5. (Tanya Moutzalias | MLive)MLive.com Detroit

Mayors across Ontario reportedly distributed a letter this month making a similar argument.

Escalating a dispute under this treaty would “basically mean this is then removed from Michigan’s jurisdiction and something the US and Canada would seek arbitration and resolution over,” argued Henry.

He said Biden voted for the treaty as a senator.

Comartin was more prudent about whether the contract provided a mechanism to settle the Line 5 dispute, saying the agreement had “not been tested or used by either party”.

“It’s hard to tell at this point,” Comartin said. “We’ll analyze it.”

Comartin said Canada had had little success communicating with Whitmer and was relying primarily on the governor’s public statements regarding the consideration of Line 5 relief.

“The notice was pretty clear that they intended to continue,” he said.

Amid litigation with Enbridge, Whitmer’s office has been quite nervous about the Line 5 issue since the easement was announced. Deputy Press Secretary Chelsea Lewis recently told MLive that the government has been contacted by “the Canadian government, tribes and lawyers on both sides of this issue”.

“One of the governor’s top priorities is protecting and defending the Great Lakes, which are vital to Michigan’s economy,” said Lewis, citing the Michigan lakes-related employment figures. “We cannot risk the devastating economic, environmental and health effects of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes.”

On the Canadian side, jobs and the economy are also in the foreground. Henry and Comartin say Line 5 is an important piece of infrastructure for their country as it connects the extraction of crude oil reserves in the tar sands region of Alberta with refineries in central Canada and elsewhere via Enbridge’s extensive Lakehead network. Approximately 540,000 barrels of oil and other products are shipped between the Enbridge terminals in Superior, Wisconsin and Sarnia, Ont. Line 5 crosses the border at Marysville via a tunnel under the St. Clair River.

In Sarnia, the pipeline supplies refineries that produce jet fuel for Toronto Airport and other Enbridge pipelines that transport fuels in Ontario. Between Wisconsin and Sarnia, the pipeline crosses both the Michigan peninsulas and many waterways, arousing criticism from those who see little benefit for Michigan but significant risk to its very existence.

Enbridge Line 5 Straits of Mackinac - September 22, 2020

The Mackinac Bridge is shown from the street of Mackinac in Mackinaw City on Tuesday, September 22, 2020. (Mike Mulholland | MLive.com)Mike Mulholland | MLive.com

The unrestricted ability to get oil from western Canada to market via the U.S. is of great concern to the Canadian government, and pipeline disputes are likely an ongoing source of conflict, said Barry Rabe, professor of public order and the environment at the University of Michigan .

That conflict gained momentum this month when, immediately after taking office, Biden revoked the Trump administration’s approval for TC Energy Corp’s Keystone XL pipeline to cross the border in Montana. The move was hailed by some as a victory in the battle to decarbonise the economy and mitigate the effects of climate change, but it sparked calls for economic retaliation against the US from Canadian provincial leaders.

Biden’s expected “Buy American” contract with federal agencies this week is expected to further test strained US trade relations with Canada.

“On Enbridge, Keystone and other points of the energy infrastructure, this will be a problem that will be common for the next few years,” said Rabe.

In Canada, Henry agreed. He said Biden and Trudeau could agree on aspects of climate policy, but energy security will “be a sticking point for us and there could be special requests for lengthy discussions and negotiations”.

On the US side, Rabe said, Biden inherited from Trump a very poor environmental record and a damaged relationship with Canada, which he called a “30-year low” after disputes over trade, tariffs, Arctic policy and the pandemic. related border restrictions. During trade deal renegotiations in 2017 and 2018, Rabe said Canadian diplomats went straight to some U.S. state governors to put pressure on the Trump administration.

If Canada escalates the dispute over Line 5, as likely in the White House, Rabe believes Biden will be forced to find a way between further alienating a historic ally and the worthwhile voters in a key state where he won the election .

There is also Whitmer’s stature in the Democratic Party to consider. The governor is closely linked to the White House Biden and the party structure. Biden named Whitmer co-chair of the National Democratic Committee this month after the governor co-chaired his presidential campaign and served on the inaugural committee.

Biden’s appointment of Whitmer predecessor Jennifer Granholm as Secretary of Energy, a move that signals a strong focus on clean energy, is also a factor to consider.

“This is a classic tough decision that Biden will face,” said Rabe. “He will not want to damage the Canadian relationship, but neither will he want to restrict a state that acts in its own ecological self-interest.”

He doesn’t see Whitmer bowing to Canadian pressure.

“Will she go back? No, ”said Raven. “This is a high-stakes political game for everyone.”

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