In an administrative first, the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) has announced it will consider the climate impacts of the four-mile (6.5-kilometre) tunnel that Calgary-based Enbridge is proposing to build beneath the Straits of Mackinac to house the controversial Line 5 pipeline.
The decision reflects the partial success of an appeal filed by the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC) and the Michigan Climate Action Network (MiCAN). That was after a ruling in February dismissed their claim that climate impacts should be factored into the MPSC’s deliberations on whether to allow the Enbridge tunnel to be built, reports Michigan Advance.
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While the MPSC has agreed to consider the climate impacts of building the tunnel, it declined ELPC’s and MiCAN’s further request that the permit hearing consider “the public need” for the Line 5 pipeline in its entirety. Still, the MPSC’s ruling “marks the first time a Michigan agency will be considering greenhouse gas emissions as part of a MEPA [Michigan Environmental Protection Act] analysis,” the Advance writes.
The MPSC is one of three state agencies whose permission will be needed before Enbridge can proceed with its plan to encase the section of its Line 5 pipeline which currently (and controversially) runs unprotected along the bottom of the Straits in a tunnel. Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) has granted its permits, while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has yet to do so.
“This is an important win for everyone who cares about the climate crisis,” said MiCAN Director Kate Madigan. “We applaud the commissioners for including evidence of climate change in their review of the proposed oil tunnel. In this time of climate emergency, leaders must consider climate change in all decisions — especially in decisions about building pipelines that would carry millions of gallons of oil every day for up to 99 years.”
The MPSC explained that, because greenhouse gas emissions are considered pollutants under MEPA, intervening parties involved in the permit hearing will be allowed to “introduce evidence addressing greenhouse gas emissions and any pollution, impairment, or destruction arising from the activity proposed in the application.”
Intervenors in the permitting process for the Enbridge tunnel include four Michigan tribes, six environmental advocacy groups, the Michigan Department of Attorney General, the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority, the national and state branches of the Propane Gas Association, and the Michigan Laborers’ District Council.
“The construction of the new four-mile pipeline segment could not be separated from the products flowing through it,” the MPSC said. So “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.”