Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board passes resolutions including temporary Line 5 shutdown

Information from National Wildlife Federation, Oil and Water Don't Mix, and Michigan Technological University

The Enbridge Line 5 Pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac. (Photo courtesy National Wildlife Federation)

LANSING -- On Dec. 11, 2017, members of Michigan’s Pipeline Safety Advisory Board (PSAB) passed formal resolutions -- including a temporary shutdown of Line 5 -- at their quarterly meeting, urging the State of Michigan to amend its agreement with Enbridge on Line 5, which Governor Snyder signed without consulting the PSAB in November.

The resolutions call for a shutdown of Line 5 until the entire line is inspected for protective coating gaps and all gaps are filled; and they modify the definition of "adverse weather conditions" to a higher standard than eight-foot waves, which triggered a temporary shut down when waves exceeded nine feet on Dec. 5. An additional resolution calls for the state to study more fully Michigan’s needs from Line 5, including alternatives that focus on the needs for Michigan over the business interests of Enbridge.

"These resolutions seek to strengthen the agreement the Governor signed with Enbridge so that it actually does what it purports to do: provide a path forward for determining the future of Line 5 while protecting the Great Lakes," said Mike Shriberg, executive director of the National Wildlife Federation Great Lakes Regional Center and a member of the Pipeline Safety Advisory Board, who co-sponsored the resolutions. "While the few services Line 5 provides to Michigan have been shown to have feasible alternatives, there is no substitute for the Great Lakes and our way of life."

On Nov. 27, Governor Rick Snyder announced an agreement with Enbridge to study a tunnel replacement for Line 5, one of the alternatives included in a state-commissioned alternatives analysis released on Nov. 20. The Pipeline Safety Advisory Board was not consulted in the agreement, which included a trigger for a temporary shutdown of flow through the pipeline in "adverse weather conditions," defined as when waves reached an average of eight feet. While those conditions were met during the recent temporary shutdown, the resolutions urge that definition to be modified to three feet and include ice cover and other conditions when the Coast Guard would be impeded from an oil spill response.

All three resolutions, introduced by Mike Shriberg, R. Craig Hupp and Jennifer McKay, were passed by the Pipeline Safety Advisory Board, with support from the sponsors, as well as Homer A. Mandoka and Chris Shepler, and the rest abstaining. There was one "no" vote on the resolution to temporarily shut down Line 5 until coating gaps are repaired. Resolutions adopted by the PSAB are advisory and not binding upon the state.

Oil and Water Don't Mix: Shutdown Line 5 as soon as possible

According to Oil and Water Don't Mix, at the Dec. 11 meeting PSAB members cited their dismay at Gov. Snyder's failure to consult with the Board on the deal with Enbridge. PSAB members also noted Enbridge's repeated failures to disclose critical information about the condition of the pipeline rationale for the votes.

Sean McBrearty, coordinator for Oil and Water Don't Mix, said, "The Pipeline Safety Advisory Board, led by members representing Michigan businesses, communities, and tribes, took a promising step forward today by acknowledging the 64-year-old Line 5 pipelines are unsafe to operate; and we look forward to continuing to work with all MPSAB members, Attorney General Bill Schuette and Governor Rick Snyder to shut down these dangerous, outdated pipelines as soon as possible."

This map from Oil and Water Don't Mix shows a North American pipeline system. Line 5, which carries oil from Superior, Wis, to refineries at Sarnia, Ontario, uses the Straits of Mackinac as a short cut, jeopardizing Great Lakes waters and nearby lands. (Map courtesy Oil and Water Don't Mix)

Sierra Club's Anne Woiwode calls the PSAB actions a major turning point in the multiyear process of considering how Michigan should address Line 5: "We applaud the MPSAB's rejection of Enbridge's increasingly hollow assurances about the damaged oil pipelines that threaten our Great Lakes, as well as the drinking water, livelihood and economy of our state. There is more to do, but these brave board members have shown the path forward to permanently shut down Line 5."

The most sweeping resolution calls for an amendment to the Snyder Enbridge deal which would require the temporary shut down of Line 5 until there has been the full inspection of and repair of all the bare steel and coating breaches in the dual pipelines on the bottom of the Straits. During the meeting Enbridge acknowledged that they don't know why more than forty gaps in the coating to the pipelines have occurred, that repairs of all of those cannot be completed until next spring at the earliest and that because of mussels, debris, and vegetation, most of the length of the pipelines have not been thoroughly inspected. The resolution also calls for Enbridge to "Ensure that propane is delivered to the Michigan markets served by Line 5 at a reasonable cost to customers," mainly residents of the Upper Peninsula.

The second resolution called for an amendment to the Snyder Enbridge deal to modify the definition of "adverse weather conditions" that dictate shutting down Line 5 so that it is consistent with the limitation of emergency response to any potential spill. The last resolution calls for the state to conduct a much more robust assessment of alternatives to Line 5 by June 25, 2018. The Snyder Enbridge deal calls for completion of the review process for Line 5 by August 2018.

Michigan Tech's role: leading risk analysis team

At the same Dec. 11 PSAB meeting, Michigan Tech Professor Guy Meadows spoke to the board on the progress of a team proposal for an independent risk analysis of the Straits pipelines.

According to a Dec. 11, 2017, article by Stefanie Sidortsova in the Michigan Tech News, Meadows, who is the Robbins Professor of Sustainable Marine Engineering and director of the Great Lakes Research Center at Michigan Tech, updated the PSAB on a team of 41 researchers from nine universities and other organizations working on a risk analysis for Line 5. Meadows estimated that the final risk analysis report could be delivered in August 2018.*

In her article, Sidortsova states, "On Sept. 18, 2017, the PSAB unanimously recommended that Michigan Tech organize and lead state universities in an independent risk analysis of the Line 5 Straits pipelines, two parallel 20-inch pipelines that form the 4.5-mile section of Line 5 that runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac. In conducting the risk analysis, Michigan Tech, state universities and other collaborators would analyze the environmental and economic impacts of a 'worst-case scenario' spill or release."*

Comment period on Line 5 Alternatives Analysis ends Dec. 22

The State of Michigan released a revised Line 5 Alternatives Analysis on Nov. 20, followed by a comment period that ends this Friday, Dec. 22. Public feedback meetings were held in early December, but the closest to our area was held in St. Ignace.**

Citizens can still submit comments on line by going to the Oil and Water Don't Mix site. Click on "Submit Your Comment." This site also has extensive information about Line 5.

* Click here to read the entire Michigan Tech News article by Stefanie Sidortsova, "Meadows Updates State Advisory Board on Line 5 Risk Analysis Proposal." 

** See our Nov. 12, 2017, article, "State announces 3 public feedback sessions on final version of Line 5 Alternatives Analysis report."

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Democrats from two counties march against tax bill

By Michele Bourdieu

Marchers head across the Portage Lift Bridge on Dec. 9 to protest the tax bill heading through Congress. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

HOUGHTON -- A group of marchers organized by both the Houghton County and the Baraga County Democratic parties braved a cold Saturday morning, Dec. 9, to protest the potential tax bill heading through the House and Senate on a fast-track this month. Carrying signs protesting a bill that, if passed, is expected to reduce taxes for the wealthy and corporations while increasing the deficit and threatening benefits for working class and middle class families and seniors, concerned citizens marched from Houghton to Hancock and back across the Portage Lift Bridge.

About 35 protesters, including members of both the Houghton County and Baraga County Democratic parties, showed up for the Dec. 9 march against the proposed tax bill, which Republicans hope to pass before Christmas. Several passers-by honk horns in support of the protesters. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

Valorie Troesch, Houghton County Democratic Party co-organizer, with Bill Binroth, of the march, said she learned from her father, a farmer who supported his family on a small Iowa farm, that the Republican idea of trickle-down economics is a flawed myth -- and now she sees the Republican/Trump/Bergman proposed tax legislation as built on that myth.

Valorie Troesch, co-organizer of the Dec. 9 march against the tax bill, displays her sign of concern for senior benefits. With her, at right, is Emily Fiala of Houghton. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

"My father used to say that when the farmer did well, the entire country did well," Troesch said. "I didn't understand what he meant until years later. But what he was talking about is exactly the opposite of trickle down voo-doo economics which holds that, if the wealthy get wealthier through favorable tax policies, their wealth will trickle down and help the folks at the bottom. All the Republican tax bill accomplishes is to ensure that prosperity will remain in the pockets of the wealthy. A real tax cut for the low income and middle class would make sure that tax breaks go directly to them. Cuts would be targeted, obvious, immediate, and substantial. The Republican plan is a tax sham designed only to further exacerbate the wealth gap and to create a pretense for eliminating the New Deal and Great Society programs for low and middle income workers and families."

Sharon Eklund, right, Baraga County Democratic Party chair, led a group of about 10 Party members from the Baraga - l'Anse area to participate in the Dec. 9 march across the Portage Lift Bridge in Houghton. Pictured with Eklund, at left, is her granddaughter Melanie Gibbs, 10, of Ishpeming. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

Sharon Eklund, Baraga County Democratic Party chair, said she brought a group of her Party members to join the march because of her opposition to President Trump's behavior and policies.

"When Trump was elected I was in a deep depression," Eklund said, "because if there's a presidential candidate who can get up in front of people and insult disabled people he will not be a president for any of the common people."

Liz Hakola of Pelkie, also a Baraga County democrat, was among the group Eklund led to Houghton for the march.

"I came to protest the tax giveaways to the billionaires and the takeaway from the poor and the working middle class," Hakola told Keweenaw Now. "I think that the next step is the Republican Congress will use the deficit that they cause to rationalize cuts in spending for social security, medicare and medicaid."

Liz Hakola of Pelkie, left, in pink hat, is pictured here with other march participants from Baraga County, including Linda Zimmer, second from left, and Sharon Eklund, center, in white hat. (Photo courtesy Sharon Eklund and Baraga County Democratic Party)

During the march, two Houghton County residents, Nancy Imm, left, and Denise Heikinen display their signs opposing U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman's support of the tax plan and Trump's negative character, respectively. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

Bill Binroth, co-organizer for the march and Houghton County Democratic Party co-chair, displays a sign showing his concerns about health care and government programs that could be cut if the Republican tax bill is approved. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

According to a Dec. 15 article in The Hill, Republicans revealed the final version of their tax bill on Dec. 15 and hope to have Trump sign it before Christmas. The House is expected to vote on the bill this Tuesday, followed by the Senate.*

In another article today, Dec. 17, The Hill quotes Sen. Bernie Sanders as saying Democrats did all they could in opposing the bill.

"Sanders described the GOP legislation as a 'massive attack on the middle class,' countering Republicans’ argument that the bill will help middle-class families through tax cuts."**

The article continues, "The bill cuts the top individual rate from 39.6 percent to 37 percent and also slashes the corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent.

"Sanders blamed the resulting legislation on the 'priorities' of the individuals who wrote the bill."**


* See "Republicans unveil final version of tax bill."

** See "Sanders: 'I think we did everything we could' to stop tax bill."

Click here for the final (Dec. 15) text of the tax bill. You can call Rep. Bergman at (202) 225-4735 to express your views on his support of the tax bill.