By DAVID EGGERT
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The Michigan Legislature approved a bill on Tuesday that would allow the replacement of a 65-year-old oil pipeline in a Great Lakes waterway, voting to establish a state authority that would oversee the construction of a tunnel to encase a new segment of pipe.
Most Republicans in the GOP-controlled chambers and some Democrats supported advancing the legislation to Gov. Rick Snyder, who plans to sign it despite criticism that his administration should not tie the hands of Democrats who will take over the governor’s and attorney general’s offices. The outgoing GOP governor is working on several fronts to finalize an agreement reached in October with the Canadian oil-transport company Enbridge. The agreement calls for replacing the underwater segment of Enbridge’s Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac, where Lakes Huron and Michigan converge. The pipeline carries oil and natural-gas liquids between Superior and Sarnia, Ontario.
Michigan’s legislation would set up a three-member Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority, which would be required to sign an agreement for the construction, maintenance and operation of the utility tunnel by Dec. 31. The massive engineering project is expected to take seven to 10 years to complete, at a cost of $350 million to $500 million — which the company would pay.
Rep. Lee Chatfield, a Republican whose district includes the existing pipeline, said pipelines — when properly maintained and inspected — remain the safest way to transport oil, safer than by barge, rail or truck. Michigan has more than 300,000 homes that are heated with propane, the most in the country, he said.
“This pipeline and the energy resources that flow through it are utilized by hundreds of thousands of Michiganders every single day, and we need to protect these energy resources,” Chatfield said. “We in this chamber with the plan that’s before us cannot wait any longer, because doing nothing is not an option.”
Many Democrats and a few Republicans opposed the bill, faulting it in part for not guaranteeing that Michigan workers would build both the proposed tunnel and new segment of pipeline. Environmentalists, native tribes and others concerned about a catastrophic spill continued to criticize Snyder’s deal for allowing the existing pipeline to stay open for up to a decade while construction is underway.
Rep. Yousef Rabhi, a Democrat, said the legislation would not protect residents’ health and contended there are other ways to ensure that the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula have adequate energy supplies.
“This is just helping a foreign company ship their foreign oil through Michigan,” he said. “That’s unfortunately not something that we should be encouraging in my opinion.”
Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, pledged during her campaign to shut down Line 5 and criticized the tunnel plan, as did her fellow Democrat, Dana Nessel, who won her race for attorney general in November. Both take office in January, but they may be powerless to stop the deal if it’s completed in the next three weeks.