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Line 5 moves forward, despite wildlife advocates' calls for shutdown

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Farah Siddiqi

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(Michigan News Connection) Conservation groups in Michigan and the Great Lakes region say they'll keep calling for an orderly shutdown of the Line 5 oil pipeline, despite the latest green light from the Michigan Public Service Commission. 

The commission has ruled Enbridge Energy can install a new 30 inch diameter pipeline segment in its Great Lakes Tunnel

But Beth Wallace - the manager of the Great Lakes Freshwater Campaign at the National Wildlife Federation - warned that an oil spill in the Straits of Mackinac would threaten wildlife, just as groups like hers are working to restore habitat in the Great Lakes region, including for endangered species like the piping plover.

"The Environmental Protection Agency alone has spent over $3 million to restore that habitat, which would be completely wiped out," said Wallace, "as well as other endangered species, like turtles. If we prolong this pipeline because of the tunnel or the reroute, we're not only extending that risk, but we're adding new harm."

Enbridge currently has a stabilization project at the Bad River shoreline in Wisconsin, to address riverbank erosion that could affect Line 5 and cause a spill

Enbridge states the project isn't located within the designated critical habitat for the piping plover. It does note the project could affect the Northern long-eared bat, which is listed as endangered.

Wallace said Line 5 also poses threats to clean drinking water, as well as tribal nations' treaty rights in the area. 

She contended that Enbridge hasn't been transparent about pipeline issues, and insists a shutdown is the only solution for making headway on wildlife preservation.

"Line 5 has already leaked 35 times along its route," said Wallace. "And that's only dating back to the '60s, when Enbridge started revealing that information. These spills range from thousands of gallons to some smaller-size spills, but there's already been damage."

Other organizations in support of a shutdown include Clean Water Action, Oil and Water Don't Mix, the Sierra Club, and tribal nations. 

But in 2021, the Consumer Energy Alliance published a report identifying major economic losses for Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania if Line 5 were to be shut down without viable energy alternatives in place.