Today a coalition of Indigenous Tribes, public safety experts, and environmental groups brought together all the pieces of their powerful case before the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) to deny a permit for the Enbridge Line 5 Tunnel Project. In their initial briefs submitted to the Commission, the groups underscored the serious risks the pipeline tunnel in the Straits of Mackinac would pose to Tribal treaty rights, public safety, and efforts to combat the climate crisis.
The Bay Mills Indian Community, a Tribal Nation, has lived along the Straits of Mackinac for centuries and retains treaty-protected access to the waterway. One of the intervening parties opposing the project, the Tribe has been a vocal opponent of the existing pipeline and tunnel replacement and has been battling Enbridge for nearly a decade. Bay Mills stressed to the Commission how constructing an underwater tunnel to transport crude oil through such ecologically sensitive waters poses an untenable risk to its frontline Indigenous communities, fish populations, sacred burial sites, and medicinal plant species.
“The Straits of Mackinac are a precious and culturally sacred part of our ecosystem that should not be jeopardized in the name of corporate greed,” said Bay Mills President Whitney Gravelle. “It’s more than just our food and water that’s at stake. It’s our connectedness to the natural world, our cultural identity, and deep sense of community that this landscape keeps alive. This is not just a tribal fight; we are fighting on behalf of all who value the Great Lakes and our environment.”
Due to the proposed tunnel’s design, the likelihood of a catastrophic explosion that would cause irreparable harm to the Great Lakes and to surrounding communities is also a serious concern. “Enbridge’s proposal to run a liquids pipeline through an enclosed tunnel has never been done before and creates the conditions for a catastrophic explosion in the Straits”, said Christopher Clark, attorney with Earthjustice, which along with the Native American Rights Fund is representing the Tribe before the Public Service Commission. “This is not the right time or right place for such a dangerous experiment.”
“Climate change is disproportionately ravaging the natural resources, economic livelihoods, and safety of the Tribal Nations located in Michigan,” said David Gover, attorney with the Native American Rights Fund. “These are the very same communities that are bearing the brunt of the unacceptable risks posed by the existing Line 5 pipeline and this tunnel replacement.”
All of the parties have submitted their initial briefs to the Commission. They will then have an opportunity to formally respond to each other’s arguments by March 11th.
For the first time in Michigan history, the potential climate impacts of proposed fossil fuel infrastructure are being considered under the Michigan Environmental Protection Act (MEPA) during a separate but simultaneous permit hearing. That hearing is also before the Michigan Public Service Commission.
“This decision to allow consideration of potential climate impacts sets precedent that climate change is within the scope of MEPA,” said Environmental Law & Policy Center senior attorney Margrethe Kearney. “This means, moving forward, MEPA can be a much more powerful tool in preventing investments in fossil fuels that create a worst-case climate scenario.”