Michigan-Enbridge pact is small step in right direction

An agreement announced Monday between the state of Michigan and Enbridge, the Canadian company that operates petroleum pipelines in various places including most famously beneath the Straits of Mackinac, is progress, albeit modest progress that few outside Gov. Rick Snyder’s office will be enthused about.

The pact will require Enbridge to replace a small section of pipeline that runs beneath the St. Clair River but doesn’t require the company to perform the same action on the dual lines that cross the straits. In addition, Enbridge will be required to temporarily shut down portions of the line in extreme weather and look into new safety technology.

“Business as usual by Enbridge is not acceptable and we are going to ensure the highest level of environmental safety standards are implemented to protect one of Michigan’s most valuable natural resources,” Snyder said in a statement released to media that was included in Associated Press stories on the issue. “The items required in this agreement are good strides forward.”

AP reported that a risk analysis released last week detailed alternatives to using the existing Line 5 beneath the straits, including construction of a new pipeline that does not snake through the straits, using underground tunnels or trenches to pump oil, using existing pipelines other than Line 5 or transporting it by rail or truck.

Monday’s agreement requires Enbridge and the state to reach a deal on what will happen to the pipeline by Aug. 15. If they don’t, the state will be in a position to make a unilateral decision, which could include shutting the straits line down, AP said.

Environmental groups were quick to condemn the agreement, claiming the state is placing too much trust in Enbridge. And the issue will likely become a political football in the gubernatorial race that’s heating up. AP noted that Democrats Gretchen Whitmer and Abdul El-Sayed say it includes temporary half-measures that leave the lakes vulnerable while Republicans Bill Schuette and Jim Hines say the plan is a good first step.

While we wish the plan went further, it’s a good first step in what will likely be a journey of many thousands of miles. The Aug. 15 deadline, falling just after the partisan primary, will be important. Snyder must take bold steps in his administration’s twilight, to insure Enbridge remains vigilant and Line 5 beneath the straits is closely monitored until its final status is determined.