Tag: Michigan

The Future of Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac





Now that Michigan’s governor and attorney general have sunk the oil tunnel scheme hatched by the last administration, I’m asked nearly every day: What can citizens and state leaders do to shut down the propped-up, banged-up Line 5 oil pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac for good?

Here’s my answer, as succinctly as I can distill it, accompanied by a summary of the law and political history in play.

So what should Governor Whitmer and Attorney General Nessel do?

Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel must take swift and comprehensive actions to review and reverse the improper failure of the former Snyder administration to bring Line 5-owner Enbridge under the rule of law. Enbridge has had its way with Michigan’s prior elected officials, and it is time to call a halt to this nonsense. Here are the steps to getting Enbridge out of the Great Lakes for good:

Proposed Oil Tunnel:

  1. Send a Letter: Tunnel Deal Is Dead– Governor Whitmer and Attorney General Nessel should send a formal letter to Enbridge advising the company that its agreements calling for a transfer or occupancy of the Straits of Mackinac public trust bottomlands, the new state-granted easement, and 99-year lease for the proposed oil tunnel that would house a new Line 5 are unenforceable unless Enbridge has obtained authorization under state law – the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act (GLSLA).

Line 5 in the Straits:

  1. Send another Letter: No Life Support for Line 5 – Governor Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), along with Attorney General Nessel, should send a letter to Enbridge advising it that the agreements purporting to grant Enbridge occupancy and use of waters and bottomlands the existing Line 5 for 10 years or more are unenforceable, because the former administration and Enbridge failed to obtain the required authorization under the GLSLA.
  1. Apply the Law to the Redesign of the Ailing Pipelines – Governor Whitmer and the DEQ, along with Attorney General Nessel, should investigate and correct the lack of review and showings required by the GLSLA and public trust law for the substantial change in design implemented for the 3 miles of pipeline elevated above the lakebed under the guise of “repair.” Enbridge should be instructed that it must show the risks and magnitude of harm are minimal and that there exist no other alternative than the existing line in the Straits or Great Lakes.

How Did We Get Here on Line 5? Tracing the Law and the Politics

The plotting of former Governor Snyder’s administration and Enbridge to hand over the public trust soils and bedrock under the Straits of Mackinac for the company to build and operate a new crude oil pipeline in a tunnel for 99 years has been put on hold.

On her first full day in office, Governor Gretchen Whitmer asked Attorney General Dana Nessel for a formal opinion on whether the Snyder-Enbridge agreement and legislature’s stamp of approval through a lame-duck law known as “Act 359” to hand over the Straits for Enbridge’s tunnel  to Enbridge was constitutional.  In late March, Attorney General Nessel found it was not constitutional because the legislature tried to graft a private tunnel-pipeline project onto a public infrastructure law that governs a public icon—the Mackinac Bridge.

Read more about the history and law surrounding Line 5 here!

  1. Revoke the Easement – Attorney General Nessel along with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), along with the above actions, revoke the 1953 easement because under the current circumstances the existing Line 5 is no longer in compliance with the common law standards of the paramount interests of the Great Lakes protected by public trust law; if Enbridge desires to continue using the existing line in the Straits, the company must submit an application for authorization of such use and occupancy along with the authorizations identified in this list.
  1. Increase Insurance Requirement and Verify It – Governor Whitmer, the DEQ, and the DNR, with the Attorney General, should require Enbridge to submit financial assurances that cover the worst case economic and natural resources damages of at least $6 billion (significantly more than the current cap of $1.8 billion), retain qualified experts to determine the adequacy of those assurances, and require Enbridge to name the State of Michigan as an “additional insured” and/or “named insured” on its insurance coverage for Line 5. Inadequate insurance is another cause for revoking the easement.

Once the Governor and Attorney General do these things, they will have taken action consistent with their pledge in being elected to lead the State and protect the Great Lakes, by nullifying the improper actions and agreements of their predecessors and bringing Enbridge, finally, under the rule of law. Regardless of the outcome, the interested parties, communities, and persons in this controversy and the government will be required to make determinations concerning the fate of Line 5 in an open forum based on facts, science, and law.  We are ruled by law, not by self-serving agreements that were plotted to avoid it.

Given President Trump’s executive orders this week to water-down or smooth over federal laws and regulations affecting water, the Great Lakes, and pipelines, it is more critical than ever that Governor Whitmer and Attorney General Nessel exercise the full jurisdiction and authority they and the State of Michigan under its exclusive power over use of the waters and bottomlands of the Great Lakes, its lakes and streams, public lands, and the public trust in the Great Lakes and navigable waters and public common property of Michigan. This trust imposes a duty on our leaders to protect the interests of citizens, the legal beneficiaries of this trust. Not the President, not Congress, not federal agencies, or state government can repeal, limit, or narrow the state’s duties and citizens’ individual and common rights under this public trust.

What Should Citizens Do?

It is quite simple: Citizens should do what they always do best. Continue to stay involved, increase communications to Governor Whitmer, Attorney General Nessel, and the Director of the DEQ, and the DNR.  These communications should do the following:

  • Thank our state leaders for taking action on the unconstitutional Act 359 and the misguided oil tunnel agreement;
  • Urge our state leaders to take immediate steps to implement the actions outlined above to formally scrap the oil tunnel and shut down Line 5.

With a New Agency Comes New Structure in Michigan

Once upon a time, state environmental agencies operated for decades under the same name, providing continuity and tradition — but perhaps failing to meet evolving needs.

The Michigan Department of Conservation operated for nearly 50 years, beginning in 1921, a period of rapid growth in the state forest and park system and the gradual adoption of pollution control measures by commissions and boards. That changed in 1970 when, by executive order, then-Governor William Milliken united natural resources and environmental programs under one roof and called it the Department of Natural Resources. This structure, in turn, lasted a quarter century.

In 1995, then-Governor John Engler divided the natural resources and environmental programs again into a Department of Environmental Quality and DNR. In 2009, then-Governor Jennifer Granholm united them under the banner of the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment. And in 2011, then-Governor Rick Snyder cleaved them again in two.

This month — on Earth Day, April 22 — the latest reorganization takes effect. Governor Gretchen Whitmer has created a Department of the Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) to coexist with the DNR. It’s the most ambitious of all the natural resource agency reorganizations.

The order says, “State government needs a principal department focused on improving the quality of Michigan’s air, land, and water, protecting public health, and encouraging the use of clean energy. That department should serve as a full-time guardian of the Great Lakes, our freshwater, and our public water supplies.” It is unprecedented for energy to be a major priority of the state’s environmental agency.

The order contains several unique features and innovations:   

  • An Environmental Justice Public Advocate to, among other things, “accept and investigate complaints and concerns related to environmental justice within the state of Michigan.”
  • A Clean Water Public Advocate to handle complaints and “assist in the development, and monitor the implementation, of state and federal laws, rules, and regulations relating to drinking water quality.”
  • An Office of Climate and Energy to “provide insight and recommendations to state government and local units of government on how to mitigate climate impact and adapt to climate changes.”

These three focal points respond to specific environmental disasters and neglect of the previous administration, most notably the Flint drinking water tragedy, but they should have statewide impact, redirecting the new agency toward its most critical challenges.

Any new agency must establish new traditions and provide a face to the world. The old DNR was seen as both strong on resource protection and occasionally arrogant in its relations with the public. It’s to be hoped that the new EGLE (along with a reinvigorated DNR) emphasizes the former and shuns the latter. If it does, the Governor will have done the state, and future generations, a considerable favor.

FLOW Praises Governor for Action on Line 5


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:                                                                      March 28, 2019

Liz Kirkwood, FLOW Executive Director                                                   Email: Liz@FLOWforWater.org
Office: (231) 944-1568, Cell: (570) 872-4956                                           Web: www.FLOWforWater.org

Jim Olson, FLOW Founder and President                                                Email: olson@envlaw.com
(231) 499-8831 

Dave Dempsey, FLOW Senior Advisor                                                     Email: dave@FLOWforWater.org
(612) 703-2720


In the wake of an opinion by Attorney General Dana Nessel invalidating a law that sought to give away Great Lakes public trust bottomlands to Enbridge for 99 years for a private oil tunnel, Governor Gretchen Whitmer has now ordered state agencies to pause permitting on Line 5, an action hailed by FLOW (For Love of Water), a Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City.

“We welcome the Governor’s swift, prudent action to halt the legal effect of the law and tunnel and side agreements,” said Jim Olson, founder and president of FLOW. “Now, it’s time to bring the existing perilous Line 5 in the Straits under rule of law and decommission it as quickly as possible.”

“The backroom deals creating Enbridge’s proposed oil tunnel couldn’t survive public scrutiny, and now we know they can’t survive the rule of law,” said Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director of FLOW. “It’s time to focus on Michigan’s true energy future and protect Michigan’s Great Lakes and our economy from a Line 5 pipeline rupture. The path forward for Michigan is for Gov. Whitmer to immediately begin the process of decommissioning Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac.”


Taking Action on the “Forever Chemicals”


Governor Whitmer’s directive Tuesday to the Department of Environmental Quality to develop an enforceable state drinking water standard for toxic PFAS chemicals is a welcome step. It signals that her Administration believes the health of Michigan citizens and the environment is not something to be left to foot-dragging federal officials, and that she is actively engaged in combating this threat.

“All Michiganders deserve to know that we are prioritizing their health and are working every day to protect the water that is coming out of their taps,” Whitmer said. 

“As a result, Michigan will begin the process to establish PFAS drinking water standards that protect public health and the environment. Michigan has long advocated that the federal government establish national standards to protect the nation’s water from PFAS contamination, but we can no longer wait for the Trump Administration to act.” She set a deadline of October 1, 2019 for the standards.

PFAS compounds are a group of emerging and potentially harmful contaminants used in thousands of applications globally including firefighting foam, food packaging, and many other consumer products. These compounds also are used by industries such as tanneries, metal platers, and clothing manufacturers.

The state oversaw the sampling of 1,114 public water systems, 461 schools that operate their own wells, and 17 tribal water systems. Levels of PFAS below 10 parts per trillion (ppt) were detected in 7 percent of systems tested. PFAS levels between 10 and 70 ppt were detected in 3 percent of systems tested.

“PFAS are extremely toxic ‘forever chemicals’ contaminating far too many Michiganders’ tap water. By pushing for strong standards, the Governor is taking an important step to protect public health — but residents, particularly children and pregnant women — are being hurt by this chemical today. Fast action is needed to protect the state from the mounting health crisis caused by widespread drinking water contamination,” said Cyndi Roper, Michigan Senior Policy Advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The announcement was also important because once the federal government finally acts, a bad law passed by the Michigan Legislature in last year’s lame duck session could complicate the state’s efforts to set a protective standard. That bad law prevents Michigan from adopting standards more protective than federal limits unless the state can show “clear and convincing” evidence that it is needed, a high legal bar. By acting before a federal limit is in place, the state can use the best science to set a protective standard.

Michigan Groundwater Policy: A History

Over 100 Years of Contamination

Groundwater contamination in Michigan reaches back over a century. For example, the Antrim Iron Works in Mancelona in 1910 began discharging residues of chemicals recovered from its charcoal production process to an on-site depression that gradually released wastes to groundwater. Although the plant closed in 1944, extensive contamination lingered for generations. By 1960, a plume of groundwater contamination at the site was estimated to be three miles long and a half-mile wide. Placed on the national Superfund list in 1982, the Tar Lake site remains contaminated despite excavation of some soils and pumping of groundwater. In 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined additional soil excavation and expanded groundwater treatment was required.

Despite lessons learned from widespread contamination of surface water in the mid-20thCentury, policies of Michigan and many other states failed to expand groundwater protections. In a 1963 report, the U.S. Geological Survey noted, “Pollution of rivers and streams, especially in southern Michigan, has placed many communities and other water users in the ironic position of having available adequate quantities of surface water, but of a quality unfit for most uses. Similar pollution of ground water must be avoided.” Instead, as federal and state laws forced cleanup of surface waters, groundwater contamination accelerated.

The staff of the Michigan Water Resources Commission was sufficiently concerned in 1958 to propose a regulation requiring “all toxic and offensive wastes…shall be rendered innocuous by adequate treatment or by sufficient dilution before being permitted to enter the ground.” To support the proposal, the staff provided a list of 16 groundwater pollution sites. Despite this, the Commission tabled the proposed rule.

The emergency evacuation of the Love Canal neighborhood in Niagara Falls, New York in 1978 because of buried chemical wastes brought public attention to the crisis of contaminated groundwater. Congress passed the federal Superfund law, intended to fund cleanup of the worst sites, in 1980, enabling states to inventory and request cleanup assistance. Michigan submitted a list of over 80 sites, the second most of any state. But the full inventory was staggering. The tally included 63 sites that were fouling drinking water supplies, 649 sites of known or suspected groundwater contamination, and an estimated 50,000 sites with contamination potential. The more state authorities looked, the more contamination they found.

The passage of a solid waste management law in 1978 and a hazardous waste management law in 1979 curbed two of the principal threats to groundwater – landfills and spills of hazardous waste materials. In 1980, the department of natural resources finally promulgated the groundwater discharge rules the water resources commission had set aside in 1958. Regulations affecting petroleum storage in underground storage tanks that took effect in the late 1980s closed another loophole in groundwater protection. But it was too late to prevent many unnecessary health risks, an enormous cleanup bill to taxpayers, and a legacy of groundwater abuse that persists in widespread contamination.

Contaminated Sites and Sacrifice Zones

In 1995, Governor John Engler and the Legislature delivered another blow to groundwater. They removed from state law the presumption that polluted groundwater should be cleaned. One result is a long list of “sacrifice zones,” or sites where groundwater use is restricted or prohibited. In many locations, rather than attempting to clean up contaminated groundwater, the parties who own or seek to redevelop contaminated sites are allowed to leave the contaminants in place and instead work with the state to restrict access to it. An analogous policy for surface water would be to bar use of or access to polluted rivers and lakes – something the public would likely not tolerate.

State law sanctions two types of contaminated site exposure controls — restrictive covenants, which run with an individual property and bar certain uses of contaminated property, and institutional controls. Controls typically restrict uses on multiple properties and can affect large zones of groundwater. They include local ordinances or state laws and regulations that limit or prohibit the use of contaminated groundwater, prohibit the raising of livestock, prohibit development in certain locations, or restrict property to certain uses.

As of mid-February 2018, DEQ records showed 3,394 land use restrictions at contaminated sites across the state. Nearly 2,000 additional restrictions were on a list to be plotted and mapped. Of the 3,394 restrictions already recorded, 2,355 were restrictions on groundwater use. Some of the groundwater areas affected are several square miles in size. In effect, for the near future, the state has written off these areas of groundwater. Continuation of this approach will foreclose the use of significant groundwater resources by future generations.

Applicable Laws

Today, rather than protecting groundwater as a whole – or water throughout the hydrological cycle – Michigan law emphasizes regulation of categories of pollution sources that affect groundwater. This backward approach to resource protection blinds the state to the overall condition of Michigan’s groundwater – and artificially divides groundwater from the rest of the water cycle. The result is a degraded resource.

Federal laws do not fill the breach. The Clean Water Act does not generally apply to groundwater. The Safe Drinking Water Act provides some funding to states to assist communities in assessing threats to community water supplies, including groundwater supplies and to develop wellhead protection plans. But it does not provide a policy or regulate many groundwater contamination sources.

State law does lay down some groundwater protections. Michigan water quality protections in theory extend to groundwater. As defined in state statute, “Waters of the state” means groundwaters, lakes, rivers, streams, and all other watercourses and waters, including the Great Lakes within Michigan’s boundaries.

Michigan’s Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (NREPA), Part 327, declares that groundwater and surface water are one single hydrologic system. Groundwater can recharge surface water, and surface water on occasion loses water to and recharges groundwater. The waters of the state should be considered one resource for any groundwater protection regulation or standard. 

Part 327 recognizes water in the Great Lakes basin and in Michigan is held in public trust for the benefit of citizens. This principle should govern every water statute, and any statute regulating activities that protect groundwater, to assure that contaminants do not impair the public trust in connected wetlands, creeks, streams, and lakes, and Great Lakes.

Because land use directly affects groundwater quality, land uses should be managed to protect groundwater quantity and quality, connected surface waters, and the public trust at least in hydrologically connected public trust streams and lakes.

Dave Dempsey, Senior Advisor

Despite these legal provisions, in practice, Michigan treats groundwater and surface water differently. Drinking water standards apply to water drawn from subsurface sources and cleanup standards apply to contaminated groundwater, but ambient water quality standards do not apply. 

As an out-of-sight, out-of-mind resource, groundwater protection depends on our laws reflecting the science of our interconnected surface and groundwaters. Our laws need to catch up to science so we don’t continue to abuse this precious resource.


FLOW’s Groundwater Awareness Week: What It Is and Why It Matters


Michigan is called the Great Lakes state but is a poor steward of the sixth Great Lake, the water lying beneath Michigan’s ground. During National Groundwater Awareness Week March 10-16, FLOW is calling for state-level reforms to strengthen protection of Michigan’s groundwater.


The Invisible Resource

Groundwater is an immense and invisible resource. The volume of groundwater in the Great Lakes watershed is roughly equal to the volume of Lake Huron. Often overlooked because it is out of sight, Michigan’s groundwater is a giant asset and life-giving resource that fills wells, grows crops, fuels industry, and replenishes the Great Lakes.

This week, we feature content directly related to this resource. FLOW has been investigating Michigan groundwater policies and problems for more than a year. In September 2018, we released a report, The Sixth Great Lake:  The Emergency Threatening Michigan’s Overlooked Groundwater Resource. Our concern and communication continues. 

Our content to be released throughout Groundwater Awareness Week includes an inspiring video narrated by poet and author Anne-Marie Oomen; two podcasts developed by writer and broadcast professional Sally Eisele; blog posts by FLOW experts shining a spotlight on PFAS and other groundwater pollution problems and protective solutions; and a fact sheet summing it all up.

In addition, FLOW is developing a groundwater map for release later this spring making it easy for you to learn about the resource across Michigan and in your region of the state.

Why Is Groundwater Important?

Michigan has more private drinking water wells than any other state. About 45% of the state’s population depends on groundwater as its drinking water source. Michigan industries withdraw 64 million gallons of groundwater daily from on-site wells. Over 260 million gallons of groundwater are withdrawn daily in Michigan for irrigation. As much as 42% of the water in the Great Lakes originates from groundwater.

For a resource so vital to human health and the economy, Michigan’s groundwater is shabbily treated in both policy and practice. Of the 50 states, only Michigan lacks a statewide law protecting groundwater from septic systems – and there are an estimated 130,000 leaking septic systems within Michigan’s borders. Other major threats include an estimated 6,000 contamination sites for which no private or public funding is available and widespread nitrate contamination from agricultural practices.

What Is Groundwater?

The hydrologic cycle governs water movement. Surface water is heated by the sun and evaporates into the atmosphere, forming clouds. These clouds condense and precipitation falls back to Earth as rain, snow, sleet, or hail. Water will then either return to a surface body of water or seep into the soil and move through the crust as groundwater.

Some may envision groundwater as an underground river or lake, but groundwater is held in tiny pore spaces in the rock and soil. After water is absorbed into the ground, gravity pulls the water down through the unsaturated zone. This area of the Earth’s crust is where tiny gaps between sediment grains, called pore spaces, are filled with either air or water. Water here can be trapped and used by plant roots or percolate downward into the saturated zone, where water exclusively fills the pore spaces.

The division between the unsaturated and saturated zone is called the water table. This two-dimensional plane often follows the contours of the surface above, moving seasonally based on precipitation events.

Groundwater in the saturated zone moves both vertically and horizontally, flowing towards a lower elevation discharge point like a stream or a lake. These surface bodies of water often rely on groundwater sources, in addition to precipitation, to recharge their water levels. After re-entering a surface body of water, the water continues through the hydrologic cycle.

As groundwater moves through the surface of the Earth, it often travels through an aquifer. Aquifers are underground formations that contain water at high enough concentrations that we can sustainably pump.

The two types of aquifers are called confined and unconfined aquifers, differing in whether or not there is an impermeable layer between the surface and the aquifer or not. Both types of aquifer can be used as a freshwater source, but unconfined aquifers are much more easily affected by surface actions and contamination and are more susceptible to pollution and degradation.

Almost all groundwater will discharge into surface water, unless it is extracted first. As a result, contaminated groundwater can degrade lakes, streams, and the Great Lakes.


Bypassing, and Now Restoring, the Rule of Law on Line 5

After last year’s election, newly chosen leaders and the old guard with a few weeks left in Lansing rushed in opposite directions. The Snyder administration and legislators intensified their unprecedented, legally questionable attacks on water, the environment, and public health during a lame-duck feeding frenzy.

The new guard, Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel, meanwhile formed transition teams and appointed cabinet members, new department heads, and staff to reestablish Michigan’s constitutional mandate that the state shall protect the paramount public concern in the Great Lakes, groundwater, and public health from pollution and harm arising out of water crises like statewide PFAS surface and well water contamination, Detroit drinking water shutoffs, lead and Legionnaire’s Disease in Flint water, and the Enbridge Line 5 oil pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac.

The combination of these crises manifests a far deeper crisis in state government—a breach of trust in the oath of office of state officials to uphold the constitution and rule of law. State leaders under the Snyder Administration and many elected officials deliberately ignored the constitutional and legal mandates and instead chose to serve special private interests.

FLOW’s Commitment: Protecting Public Waters from Pollution and Private Control

Here at FLOW, we are increasing our efforts and projects to protect the paramount public trust concern in water, the environment, and public health through our Campaign for Fresh Water launched last fall. One of these projects is to bring an end to the high risk of extreme damage to the Great Lakes, tribal fishing, drinking water, property, businesses, citizens, and Michigan’s economy from the continued operation of the decaying, 66-year-old Line 5 oil pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac.

FLOW has redoubled our efforts in concert with a large public outcry and movement to decommission or end Line 5, collaborating with Oil & Water Don’t Mix and many local and statewide environmental groups, like National Wildlife Federation and Groundwork Center, individuals, families, businesses, communities, elected officials, and the leadership and legal challenges brought by Michigan’s Indian tribes with treaty rights in the Straits, Straits of Mackinac Alliance, and the City of Mackinac Island.

The former Snyder Administration and state environmental and natural resource agencies, former Attorney General Schuette, and a core of pro-Enbridge legislators in a flurry of agreements, laws, and actions, suspended the state Constitution and rule of law to convey and appropriate public trust lands and waters for Enbridge to build a private oil tunnel for a new Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac for another 99 years. Worse, these state officials and leaders purported to guarantee Enbridge to keep operating and using Great Lakes bottomlands for its dangerous existing Line 5 for another 10 years—without the required authorization and occupancy or use agreements required by the 1955 Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act (GLSLA) and public trust law that apply to the soils and waters of the Great Lakes.

This is the year of reckoning for Enbridge’s Line 5. It is time to unpack and nullify the unilateral deals made with Enbridge by the Snyder administration and confirmed by the legislature without following the constitution and rule of law.

This is the year of reckoning for Enbridge’s Line 5. It is time to unpack and nullify the unilateral deals made with Enbridge by the Snyder administration and confirmed by the legislature without following the constitution and rule of law. The administration and legislature signed off on a covert deal that would let Enbridge Energy continue pumping 540,000 barrels of oil a day (bbl/day; 1 barrel equals 42 U.S. gallons) through the dual lines laid in 1953 in the Straits and Great Lakes with a catastrophic worse-case damage scenario in the tens of billions of dollars. Unaccountably, the administration and legislature did so despite Great Lakes law in Michigan that prohibits the transfer or occupancy of the state-owned waters and the soils beneath them for private purposes.

Reward for Failure: After Enbridge’s 2010 Kalamazoo Pipeline Disaster, Michigan Officials Doubled Enbridge’s Oil Pumping across Michigan, and then Locked in an Oil Tunnel Deal for 99 Years

How is it that the State ended up rewarding Enbridge for a spill from Line 6B of a million gallons of crude oil and billions of dollars of damage to the Kalamazoo River system? While the State worked with Enbridge to address the damage from its unprecedented 2010 spill, it granted Enbridge a gigantic windfall by incrementally approving, from 2012 to the present, the doubling of Enbridge’s pipeline capacity and oil transport through the Great Lakes. In effect, while Canadians continued to block pipeline projects to transport crude oil to the country’s coasts, and citizens in the U.S. derailed the Keystone XL in the West, the Snyder Administration and former Attorney General Schuette orchestrated a “Great Lakes XL” that is even larger.

And then in 2018, Snyder, in his term’s waning months, and the lame-duck legislature gave away and endangered the Great Lakes to Enbridge, by locking in a 99-year sweetheart deal for Enbridge to build an oil tunnel to convey Line 5 under the Straits and granting Enbridge the cover to keep operating the existing failing Line 5 that threatens tens of billions in damages. On top of this deal, the Administration totally failed to even consider climate change impacts and risks and the rapid shift toward the new renewable energy economy that will leave the state with a billion-dollar dinosaur.

Here’s how the calculated actions of Snyder, Schuette, and their cohorts bypassed legal requirements in seven sweeping steps, along with some advice from FLOW to Michigan’s new leadership at the start of their journey to reestablish the rule of law and rollback the mess:

  1. Bit by Bit, Doubling the Oil Flow on Line 6b after Enbridge’s Kalamazoo River Disaster

First, from approximately 2011 to 2014, the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) approved a series of Enbridge applications to replace short segments, rather than a single application to replace the whole portion, that had the effect of doubling the design capacity of most of Line 6b pipeline from 400,000 to 800,000 barrels (bbl)/day. Allowing the MPSC to review shorter pipeline segments avoided the alternative analysis on the entire Line 6b from Indiana to Sarnia, Canada. 

MPSC rules and decisions, and Michigan’s environmental laws, require a review of likely impacts and alternatives to the entire length of the pipeline. Had this rule been followed, the MPSC would have been required to look at all of the Enbridge lines in Michigan, and determine the overall needs of the public necessity and needs of the company, short and long term, and the alternative or best route or location that would best meet that need with the least impact and risk to water, environment, and communities. That would have included a review of the need for Line 5, including the risks to the Straits of Mackinac and Great Lakes. It also would have required a consideration of the future need for crude oil through Enbridge’s system in Michigan in light of falling crude oil demands caused by the rapid and imminent shift to renewable energy to reduce the effects of climate change.

  1. Increasing Line 5’s Oil Flow in the Straits by 80 Percent

Second, during the same time frame, the MPSC approved the location and installation of new and changed pump stations and anti-friction fluid injection facilities for Line 5, including the Straits segment, so Enbridge could implement its final increment to result in the increase the oil transport capacity of Line 5 from 300,000 to 540,0000 bbl/day.  Again, the MPSC did not evaluate the need, impacts, risks, or alternatives to this overall 80-percent increase in flow volume of crude oil.  Once more, the State allowed Enbridge to avoid the law that required a full evaluation of the purpose.  Had the rule of law been followed in the doubled Line 6B and expanded flow volume in Line 5, the State through proper notice, public input, and evidence would have been required to look at overall impacts, risks, and alternatives and need for the Enbridge system, and Line 5 could have been decommissioned in an orderly manner in exchange for the doubling of Line 6B.

  1. Saddling, Elevating, and Damaging Line 5 in the Straits

Third, although not disclosed by Enbridge until 2016, Enbridge installed saddle supports screwed into the lakebed to support a failing design of Line 5 in the Straits. The original design specified in the 1953 easement and built in the Straits called for the heavy steel dual lines in the Straits segment to be laid on the bottom on the lakebed. If wave action and currents scoured more than 75 feet of soils beneath a segment of the pipes, the company was required to stabilize the line by closing the existence of the spans.

While not disclosed until 15 years later, when filling or grout bags failed, Enbridge in 2001 started installing saddle supports screwed into the lakebed to elevate the heavy dual pipes above the lakebed. Initially, there were 16 supports, more and more were added, and between 2016 and 2018, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) permitted Enbridge to install more than 70 saddle supports, bringing the total to 200 supports, which has resulted in a suspension of three miles of an aged line above the lakebed.

The DEQ shrouded Enbridge’s failing Line 5 risks and redesign by characterizing the supports as a “repair” and “maintenance.”  This not only covered up the redesign but confined the legally required impact and alternative analysis to a 50-foot radius of lakebed around each support.  As a result, the DEQ ignored and allowed Enbridge to escape the comprehensive review of potential impacts and alternatives to the failing condition of the outdated line required by the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act.

In addition, Enbridge’s installation of the saddles has damaged Line 5’s anti-corrosion protective coating, a fact that the company hid from Michigan officials for three years during its negotiations to install additional anchor supports.

  1. Signing Side Deals for Another 99 Years of Line 5 in the Straits

Fourth, Governor Snyder, DEQ and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) signed two agreements with Enbridge between October and the end of December 2018 that purported to transfer state public trust bottomlands and soils of the Straits so Enbridge can build a tunnel for a new 99-year pipeline. The tunnel and new line will take 10 years or more to construct. Until the new line is operating, Enbridge is authorized to continue operating the failing design of the existing aged line.

Under the GLSLA, easements, leases, uses, or improvements on, in, under the state-owned public trust soils of the Great Lakes are prohibited unless authorized within two narrow exceptions: (1) it is for a public purpose, related to navigation, boating, fishing, swimming, or drinking water; and (2) it will not threaten an impairment of the public trust in the waters, soils, or these public trust uses.

Under the GLSLA, easements, leases, uses, or improvements on, in, under the state-owned public trust soils of the Great Lakes are prohibited unless authorized within two narrow exceptions: (1) it is for a public purpose, related to navigation, boating, fishing, swimming, or drinking water; and (2) it will not threaten an impairment of the public trust in the waters, soils, or these public trust uses.  The two agreements that commit leasing, easements, or use of waters and soils beneath the Straits do not require Enbridge to obtain authorization or findings under the GLSLA. In other words, the Governor and his agencies agreed to transfer state public trust lands for the tunnel and the private 99-year new line, and at the same time allow the continued use of public bottomlands for the existing line, without obtaining the authorization required by law.

  1. Ramming through a New Law to Transfer State Public Lands to Canada’s Enbridge without Proper Authorization

Fifth, when the Legislature ram-rodded the passage of Public Act 359 and Governor Snyder signed it into law in late December, they created a corridor authority to sign the tunnel agreement, easements, leases and other commitments for Canadian-based Enbridge to take over the public’s state-owned waters and soils and build the tunnel and its new pipeline. On its face, Act 359 transfers or commits to the authority these state public trust bottomlands without requiring authorization of the conveyance under the GLSLA. Under U.S. Supreme Court and Michigan Supreme Court decisions, any disposition, occupancy, or use must obtain authorization based on findings of no private purpose and no impairment of waters, soils, fishing, navigation or other public rights.  Otherwise, it is prohibited.

  1. Bypassing State Law and Alternatives to Risking the Great Lakes

Sixth, the easement for a public utility, after approval by the MPSC, such as the tunnel or the 99-year lease, or the continued operation of the existing Line 5 in the Straits, must be obtained from the state DNR in addition to the authorization under the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act. Because the easements involve public trust bottomlands, they cannot be granted unless authorized by the GLSLA or unless based on the standards of the common law of public trust, which requires the comprehensive review of potential impacts and alternatives to the total or substantial change of the outdated dual lines in the soils and open waters of the Great Lakes.  

  1. Appropriating Public Property for Enbridge’s Private Purpose

Seventh, the Michigan Constitution, Art IV, Sec. 30, prohibits the appropriation of public property of the State for private or local purposes. An appropriation occurs where the disposition or transfer of state property, like the public trust waters and soils of the Great Lakes, is granted without findings or full and fair compensation—that is, where the transfer is for free, little consideration, or less than the full public trust value of these waters and soils.

In short, our former Governor, DEQ and DNR Directors, the MPSC, and former Attorney General suspended wholesale the rule of law for the benefit of Enbridge’s massive increase in the volume of crude oil through our Great Lakes State for private gain.

Restoring the Rule of Law and the Paramount Place of the Water and the Great Lakes in Michigan’s Future Prosperity

The first order of business for our new leaders—Governor Whitmer and Attorney General Nessel—is to restore the rule of law on Line 5 in Michigan, and they are off to a good start.  The high risks and more than $6 billion catastrophe from a release of crude oil in the Great Lakes and an estimated additional $45 billion in damage to shipping, steel production, and jobs are unacceptable by any sane measure.  

The public deserves better, the law and state Constitution demand it, and we applaud and urge on the governor and attorney general’s steps to bring Line 5 to a prompt and orderly decommissioning and closure.

Governor Whitmer should direct her new directors of the DEQ and DNR and Attorney General Nessel should direct her lead attorneys on Line 5 and the Great Lakes to conduct a thorough and careful review and reevaluation of the Snyder Administration’s and former Attorney General Schuette’s failure to follow the public trust, GLSLA, and Michigan Constitution in the handling of the entire Enbridge Line 5 controversy.

Buoyed by the work of so many organizations, tribes, communities, individuals and families, and the majority of citizens who elected them, the Governor and Attorney General Nessel and their administrations have a mandate and opportunity to restore water, environment, and public health as paramount in Michigan. The public deserves better, the law and state Constitution demand it, and we applaud and urge on the governor and attorney general’s steps to bring Line 5 to a prompt and orderly decommissioning and closure. 

Jim Olson, President and Founder

Enbridge has alternatives within its pipeline system to meet all of its and Michigan’s needs without using the Straits and the Great Lakes.  There are several good solutions to assure continued delivery of propane to rural areas in the Upper Peninsula. It may even save Enbridge and its shareholders from shouldering a future stranded asset, as the need for Alberta crude oil, including through Line 5, will plummet in the next decade with the rise of the new renewable energy economy backed by public demand.


FLOW Supports Gov. Whitmer’s Request for a ‘Line 5’ Opinion from Attorney General


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:                                                                                         January 2, 2019

Jim Olson, Founder and President                                                             Email: olson@envlaw.com
FLOW (For Love of Water), Traverse City, MI                                         Web: www.FLOWforWater.org
Cell: (231) 499-8831; Office: (231) 944-1568


FLOW Supports Gov. Whitmer’s Request for an Opinion from Attorney General on Legality of Hastily Crafted Law and Side Agreements on ‘Line 5’ Oil Pipelines and Proposed Tunnel in Mackinac Straits


The following statement can be attributed to Jim Olson, environmental attorney, founder, and president of FLOW (For Love of Water), a Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City:

“This first and immediate step by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in a letter asking Attorney General Dana Nessel for an opinion on Public Act 359 is critical in unpacking the layers of problems with the newly enacted law, any tunnel agreement, and most importantly the massive threat posed by the existing Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac, a threat that must be ended in a swift and orderly fashion based on the rule of law under our state constitution, statutes, and the public trust doctrine in the Great Lakes.”

“In the last three weeks of 2018, then-Gov. Rick Snyder, the Department of Environmental Quality, and Department of Natural Resources signed agreements to enable Enbridge to construct a tunnel that the state would own and lease to Enbridge for 99 years for a new crude oil pipeline under the waters and in the soils of the bottomlands of the Straits of Mackinac. In order to finalize the deal before the end of the year, the Republican-controlled legislature during the lame-duck session rushed through a law—Public Act 359—that set up a Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority to sign the tunnel deal with Enbridge and guarantee the transfer of publicly owned and controlled Great Lakes bottomlands and other financial benefits to Enbridge for private gain, the 99-year privately owned pipeline.

“During this same time, Governor Snyder, the DEQ, DNR, and Enbridge without public review finalized a separate agreement that would give Enbridge the right to continue using its existing dangerous and flawed Line 5 pipelines in the open waters of the Mackinac Straits for another 10 years, or as long as it takes to complete the tunnel and install the new pipeline.

“Everyone agrees that the release of oil to the Great Lakes would cause massive harm to those waters, as well as businesses, communities, property owners, tribal fishing rights, and the public’s paramount rights for fishing, boating, and recreation protected by the public trust doctrine – an ancient principle that prohibits the transfer of public lands and waters without compliance with laws that assure a public purpose and no imprudent risks to health, environment, and property.

“Public Act 359, coupled with the State’s public entanglement with Enbridge, puts private gain and economic interests above the State’s and public’s paramount trust interest in the waters and soils of the Great Lakes.  The law and entangled state and Enbridge agreements represent one of the largest, if not largest, threats in the state’s history to the state’s ownership and public trust duty to protect the public’s rights and uses from private takeover or harm to the Great Lakes. Act 359 and these agreements for a tunnel and continued use of the existing, flawed Line 5 were not authorized under the standards of public trust law; the state and Enbridge flouted the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act that requires transfers and agreements for occupancy of the soils of under the Great Lakes by trying to avoid and ignore this most basic law and public trust principles.

“Public Act 359 and the agreements are peppered with other serious problems, most of which are covered by the questions the Governor has asked the Attorney General to answer.  These include:

  • Adding the tunnel and corridor authority to the 1952 law that created the Mackinac Bridge Authority goes far beyond the original public purpose to build a public bridge;
  • Establishing a term for members of the board of the corridor authority that exceeds the 4-year limit under Article III of the Michigan Constitution;
  • Violating provisions of the state constitution that prohibit fostering private or special purposes, the comingling of the government to aid primarily private projects, the appropriation of public property for private purposes, and the entanglement of the credit and taxpayers of the State for primarily private purposes.

“We hope this critical first step by the Governor and Attorney General will be followed by an immediate and full review of the Snyder administration’s and agencies’ mishandling of the grave and continuing risks of the existing Line 5, and the real and imminent threat to the Mackinac Straits, towns and cities like Mackinac Island, tribal fishing interests, private property interests, businesses, and the rights of the public in the Great Lakes.”


Lame Ducks, Lamer Policies


When Michigan voters cast ballots November 6, they did not express support for attacks on the state’s water resources.  But that’s what they may be getting from Lansing between now and the end of 2018.

In politics, lame ducks are officeholders whose successors have been elected but whose terms haven’t expired.  “Lame” may imply powerlessness, but in fact lame duck officials possess a dangerous power.  They can enact or repeal laws without accountability.  Michigan’s lame duck Governor Rick Snyder and dozens of legislators who won’t return next year are plotting several attacks on the environment.  To put these attacks in a legal framework, Article 4, Section 52 of our state’s constitution declares that the public’s concern for air, water, and natural resources is “paramount,” and mandates that the legislature “shall enact laws that protect the air, water, and natural resources from pollution, impairment, or destruction.”  These lame duck officeholders are determined to do the opposite.

The most prominent of these is Senate Bill 1197, concerning Line 5 and the Mackinac Bridge, sponsored by lame duck Senator Tom Casperson, a Republican from Escanaba.  It would grant Enbridge Energy a blessing to operate its risky 65-year-old petroleum pipelines under the Straits of Mackinac for another decade.  It would do so by diluting the mission of the state’s Mackinac Bridge Authority to include acquisition of lands for, and ownership of, an oil tunnel beneath the Straits. The tunnel, if ever built, would expose the Authority and the taxpayers of Michigan to liability if it ever results in a spill or other accident. 

Coupled with a proposed agreement between the state and Enbridge, the bill seeks to lock the state into a 99-year lease for the Canadian company to use the Straits as a shortcut for routing Canadian crude oil to the Canadian refinery center of Sarnia, Ontario.  Why the haste to finalize a nearly century-long deal in a five-week lame duck session, especially when the new governor and attorney general have expressed opposition to the decaying pipelines and the replacement tunnel?

Concerned citizens from across Michigan are converging on the Capitol Tuesday, November 27 for a Lame Duck Lobby Day against Senate Bill 1197 and the bad Enbridge deal.

This ill-conceived legislation is not the only attack on environmental protections that could become law in the lame duck session.  Others include:

  • Weakening the state’s wetland law to exclude many important, sensitive waters from protection.  The proposal would essentially dumb down Michigan’s wetlands law to meet weak definitions being pursued by the Trump Administration and expose over half a million acres of wetlands to destruction.
  • Weakening the state’s approach to cleanup of chemical contamination, making it harder to set binding cleanup standards and to protect the most sensitive populations, women of child-bearing age and children.
  • Weakening protection of the environment from toxic coal ash by creating a state coal ash landfill program with minimal standards that could allow arsenic and lead in groundwater.
  • Setting weak standards for protection of groundwater and surface water from failing septic systems.  Only Michigan of the 50 states lacks a statewide code for regulation of septic systems, but the bills on which the lame duck Legislature may act fall well short of what is needed.

A few proposals good for Michigan’s environment may get a hearing, too.   Bills to create a sustainable funding source for replacing aging water infrastructure, water quality monitoring, recycling, and contaminated site cleanup may be considered, as well as a measure providing fair tax treatment for small-scale solar generation. 

But the bad far outweighs the good in this lame duck Legislature.  FLOW will work to keep you informed of these threats and what you can do about them during the remainder of 2018.


Thankful for Beautiful Views


Photo by Kenzie Rice


Since I was a kid, I have been taking advantage of the beauty of Michigan. You could say I am a veteran of taking advantage of it at this point. My parents would take my siblings and me on picturesque hikes and to spectacular lookout points, and I would stare out onto the blue horizon.

Porcupine Mountains, Pictured Rocks, Pyramid Point.

The first time I went to Pyramid Point, my sister was a napping infant. My mother watched her, while my father took my brother and me up the half mile trail to the lookout, and then down the 300 feet to Lake Michigan. By the time we climbed back up and made it back to the parking lot, my mother and little sister had all but left us for dead. We were quickly forgiven, as the beauty of the water can captivate anyone for hours.

The view from that day is one of my most vivid memories, and the hikes in that area are still some of my favorite.

Two summers ago, I was in Hawaii, helping a woman on her farm. After initial conversation, it came up that I was from Traverse City. Her response was, “I have traveled all over the world, and that is the most beautiful place I have been.” Not to mention, you don’t often hear people talking about other beautiful places while being in Hawaii.

But she was right. Our Great Lakes are a globally significant resource, for function and beauty. I love hiking along Lake Michigan’s shores and being amazed every single time.

Photo by Temple Florip