MPSC denies bid to revisit public need for existing parts of Line 5, but permits arguments of greenhouse gas emissions; Enbridge responds

Enbridge was pleased with the decision by the Michigan Public Service Commission about Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac.
 (Michigan Public Service Commission and Enbridge Energy logos)
(Michigan Public Service Commission and Enbridge Energy logos) (WLUC)
Published: Apr. 21, 2021 at 3:42 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WLUC) - The Michigan Public Service Commission Wednesday rejected arguments that the issue of whether there is a public need for the entirety of Line 5 should be revisited in Enbridge Energy Ltd.’s application to relocate a 4-mile segment of the pipeline to a tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac.

The MPSC found that the matter has long been settled for the existing pipeline and limiting the scope of review to the new segment to be constructed. But the Commission’s order (Case No. U-20763) agreed that greenhouse gas emissions are pollutants whose impact must be considered under the Michigan Environmental Protection Act (MEPA).

Wednesday’s order concerns several major contested issues in Enbridge’s application to replace about four miles of pipeline and move it from the lakebed of the Straits to a tunnel 60-250 feet below the lakebed.

The MPSC has siting authority for crude oil and petroleum pipeline projects under Public Act 16 of 1929.

The Michigan Public Service Commission in December 2020 remanded for a rehearing Enbridge’s motion to limit the scope of the case to consider the impact of a November 2020 decision by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to revoke and terminate the 1953 easement under which Enbridge built and operated Line 5 in the Straits. The Governor’s November decision ordered the company to stop operating the pipelines no later than May 13, 2021. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel filed an action in Ingham County Circuit Court supporting the revocation. Enbridge has challenged the revocation in federal court.

The MPSC rejected intervenors’ arguments that the Commission must examine in this case whether there is a public need for the 641 miles of Line 5 not at issue in Enbridge’s application. The Commission found that the issue of public need for the pipeline has been a long-settled matter since the pipeline was first approved in 1953, and that such approvals under law and Commission precedent do not contain time limits on such determinations.

The Commission also found that the replacement of the four-mile segment of Line 5 in the Straits is not cause for a review of the entire pipeline system with which the segment interconnects, so the case will be limited to the four-mile segment proposed to be replaced in the Straits.

Enbridge released the following statement after the MPSC’s decision:

Enbridge is pleased that the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) agreed with the Administrative Law Judge’s rulings that the project under consideration is the four-mile pipeline segment replacement and that “the replacement of the four-mile segment of Line 5 in the Straits is not cause for a review of the entire pipeline system.”

We welcome the Commission’s finding, “that the issue of public need for the pipeline has been a long-settled matter since the pipeline was first approved in 1953, and that such approvals under law and Commission precedent do not contain time limits on such determinations. "

Enbridge will continue to work with the Commission on its review of our application and towards a successful conclusion to this proceeding.

Our aim is simple. To replace the two pipelines in the Straits with an even safer pipeline encased in a concrete tunnel well below the lakebed. This totally eliminates anchor strikes, improves safety and environmental protections, and continues to provide Michiganders and neighboring states with the energy they need.

Recent surveys show most Michiganders support the Great Lakes Tunnel project, including the replacement pipeline. Enbridge is committed to building it in a way that improves safety and environmental protections for years to come.

The Commission also limited its MEPA review to the proposed four miles of pipeline. However, the Commission agreed with intervenors that the Line 5 application review must include an examination of the allegations of greenhouse gas pollution raised by intervenors under MEPA. The Commission found that greenhouse gas emissions are pollutants under MEPA and permitted parties to introduce evidence addressing greenhouse gas emissions “and any pollution, impairment, or destruction arising from the activity proposed in the application.” Finding that the construction of the new 4-mile pipeline segment could not be separated from the products flowing through it, the Commission will also allow evidence to be presented on the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the fossil fuels being transported through the replacement segment.

Further, the Commission’s order permits parties in the case to submit evidence and arguments on the potential impacts and appropriate bases of comparison of any pollution attributable to the 4-mile segment were Governor Whitmer and the DNR to prevail in shutting down the existing pipeline sections crossing the bottomlands of the Straits. The Commission said it was not prejudging the issue but wants a full record on which to base potential decisions if the Straits portion of Line 5 is no longer operational.

Intervenors in the case are the Bay Mills Indian Community; Environmental Law & Policy Center; For Love of Water; the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians; the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians; Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority; Michigan Climate Action Network; Michigan Department of Attorney General; Michigan Environmental Council; Michigan Laborers’ District Council; Michigan Propane Gas Association; National Propane Gas Association; National Wildlife Federation; the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi, and Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council. MPSC Staff also is participating in the proceeding.

Other groups released statements after the MSPC ruled that climate change must be a factor in determining the need for Enbridge Energy’s Line 5 tunnel.

The National Wildlife Federation applauds the Commissioners for reversing course to ensure Michigan is moving towards a clean energy economy, which undoubtedly should not include an expansion of a 70-year-old oil pipeline,” said Beth Wallace, Freshwater Campaigns Manager for the National Wildlife Federation Great Lakes Regional Center. “Enbridge continues to mislead the public that a tunnel will be built. This decision, and additional permitting challenges Enbridge faces, proves we can’t continue to allow the failing Line 5 pipeline to operate in the Great Lakes – Line 5 must be shut down on May 12.

We applaud the MPSC for requiring a full look at the climate impacts of Line 5, including all the carbon emitting fossil fuel that would flow through the line during its 99-year lease.” said Sean Hammond, policy director at Michigan Environmental Council. “Though we are disappointed that the commission will allow only a cursory review of the public need of this Line, this is a large step in the right direction in our urgent fight against climate change.

Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council commends the Michigan Public Service Commission for acknowledging the significant climate implications the Line 5 pipeline and tunnel application will have on Michigan’s environment, economy, and citizens and for allowing for all necessary evidence to be considered. Assessing the climate risks will ensure there is a robust analysis and that the final decision is based on sound science,” said Jennifer McKay, policy director for Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council. “Should the tunnel become a reality, Michigan is handcuffed to a century of continued use of fossil fuels. This will result in an increase in droughts, severe storms, and flooding events that can amplify the risk of erosion, sewage overflow, and flood damage.”

Today has been a landmark day for the advancement of the clean energy economy in the state of Michigan,” said Great Lakes Business Network co-chairs Juliette King McAvoy and Larry Bell. “Now is the time to get to work promoting clean energy sources and finally shuttering Enbridge’s Line 5. The MPSC’s recognition of the oil pipeline’s climate impacts effectively delivers the knockout punch to Enbridge’s Line 5 tunnel proposal – which will serve to alleviate this pervasive threat to our economy, drinking water, and public health.”

Additional background about Enbridge’s application and the Act 16 review process is available at the MPSC’s Line 5 page.

To look up cases from Wednesday’s meeting, access the MPSC’s E-Dockets filing system. Watch recordings of the MPSC’s meetings on the MPSC’s YouTube channel. For information about the MPSC, visit, sign up for its monthly newsletter or other listservs, or follow the Commission on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Copyright 2021 MPSC and Enbridge via WLUC. All rights reserved.