Jeffrey Insko (Photo: Courtesy photo)
If you stand at the foot of the Mackinac Bridge at Alexander Henry Park in the Lower Peninsula, you can easily see the green stretch of land that is the Upper Peninsula five miles across the Straits. Unfortunately, that may well be farther than Michigan state regulatory agencies can see.
In an extraordinarily short-sighted move, the Michigan Department of Energy, Great Lakes, and Environment (EGLE) approved Enbridge’s application for permits related to the construction of its Line 5 tunnel.
EGLE claims it had no choice. “The basis for our decision,” director Liesl Clark insisted, “is required to be limited to compliance with the relevant environmental statutes created by our legislature.”
In other words, EGLE says it was required to read Enbridge’s application with blinders on.
At the same time, according to the Project Review Report, EGLE also determined the Line 5 tunnel is “in the public interest.” But EGLE provides no explanation as to how one possibly could reach such a conclusion without taking a much broader view of the matter. What public? Whose interest?
Such regulatory and legislative myopia is particularly disturbing at this moment of planetary crisis caused by global warming.
The Biden administration has recently taken steps to address this pressing global problem. In a display of long-overdue foresight, President Joe Biden acted quickly to revoke the Keystone XL pipeline permit, recognizing the dangerous link between investment in fossil fuel infrastructure and climate change.
“The United States and the world face a climate crisis,” Biden’s Executive Order states. “That crisis must be met with action on a scale and at a speed commensurate with the need to avoid setting the world on a dangerous, potentially catastrophic, climate trajectory.”
It’s past time Michigan officials and Michigan agencies took a similarly comprehensive view of Line 5.
Whether a tunnel-encased line is a safer alternative to the existing Line 5, and whether it can be built with a minimum of disruption to the lake bed and the ecosystem of the Straits of Mackinac might appear to be reasonable questions. But they’re the wrong questions.
Recently, the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) heard oral arguments on Enbridge’s Line 5 application focusing on the scope of the proceedings. Enbridge has sought to make the range of admissible topics in those proceedings as narrow as possible. Thus far, they have convinced the administrative law judge to limit the questions that interested parties can address by arguing that broad matters involving environmental justice, tribal sovereignty and the climate crisis are irrelevant to the regulatory questions at hand.
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But the narrow view will no longer do. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we now have less than a decade to cut carbon emissions enough to prevent massive ecological and human disaster. Less than a decade. That’s less time than it will take Enbridge, despite its misleading forecasts, to complete construction on the tunnel. By then, a large-scale infrastructure project that locks us into a century more of fossil fuel transportation and combustion is going to look even more foolhardy and irresponsible than it does now.
The good news is the MPSC has ample authority to set the parameters of their review as broadly as they see fit. All they need is a little will and an expansive vision.
Jeffrey Insko is a professor of English at Oakland University. He is currently writing a book titled, “Untimely Infrastructure: The 2010 Marshall, Michigan Oil Spill in the Human Epoch.”
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