Experts Sound Alarm On Line 5 Oil Pipeline Tunnel Climate Impacts


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The Bay Mills Indian Community (BMIC), tribal citizens, climate scientists, and academic experts submitted written testimony to the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) the week of September 13. Expert testimony explained the climate change and grave impacts the Enbridge Energy corporation would cause if MPSC allowed the Canadian company to construct a new Line 5 oil pipeline tunnel under the Great Lakes.

BMIC President Whitney Gravelle submitted testimony describing the negative impacts the project would have to the waters and land in and around the Straits of Mackinac and the Great Lakes, which the tribe has reserved access to through treaty for fishing, hunting, and gathering. “It is dangerous to construct a tunnel and route a pipeline through lands and waters that are central to our existence as indigenous people and as a Tribal Nation,” wrote Gravelle. “The project poses a serious threat to our treaty rights, our cultural and religious interests in the Great Lakes, our economy, and the health and welfare of our tribal citizens.”

Bay Mills tribal fishing Boat. Courtesy of Whitney Gravelle

Earlier in 2021, the Tribe banished the Enbridge corporation’s Line 5 project from tribal lands and lands reserved by treaty, to protect tribal citizens, lands, and natural resources from the inherent and unreasonable risk of an oil spill. Enbridge has a long-documented record of oil leaks that have caused environmental damage to tribal lands and treaty-reserved gathering, hunting, and fishing. Since May 13, 2021, Enbridge is breaking the law by trespassing. The state of Michigan revoked Enbridge’s easement to the bottomlands due to the corporation’s repeated violations of the easement agreement.

The corporation continues to operate Line 5 illegally in the Straits of Mackinac while seeking approval from the Commission to build a replacement pipeline encased in a tunnel underneath the lakebed. If approved by MPSC, the tunnel would allow Enbridge to operate the pipeline for decades, perpetuating greenhouse gas emissions and further jeopardizing the lifeway of tribal communities native to the Great Lakes Basin.

Several academic experts underscored how numerous species critical to the Upper Peninsula’s larger ecosystem and economy already struggle to adapt to warming temperatures due to the effects of climate change. Since 1985, the “lakes in the Great Lakes region have warmed more than the global average,” the experts’ testimony states. This warming has forced many species, including the Walleye fish, which support tribal subsistence, commercial, and recreational fisheries, to live in warmer environments that inhibit their chances for survival. Experts also highlighted the rapid loss of wild rice, a crop revered as an “irreplaceable cultural, spiritual, nutritional, and commercial resource and sacred relative” to members of the Bay Mills Indian Community and other Native peoples in Michigan.

Expert climate change witnesses submitted written testimony detailing their concerns about the tunnel project’s detrimental climate impacts. Director and Senior Economist of the Applied Economics Clinic Elizabeth A. Stanton, Ph.D., explained how shutting down Line 5 and not building a replacement was a “reasonable and prudent” alternative in light of the pressing need to shift to clean energy sources.

The parties in the Michigan Public Service Commission’s contested case submitted testimony on September 15, 2021, with the opportunity to submit rebuttal testimony on December 14, 2021. Cross-examination of witnesses will occur in January 2022, with a decision expected from the Commission later in the year.

Read More: Bay Mills Indian Community Aims to Stop the Enbridge Line 5 Pipeline System and A Tunnel Under the Straits of Mackinac

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