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Governor Whitmer wants Michigan to be carbon neutral by 2050. A Line 5 tunnel is at odds with that

NASA Johnson

Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday announced a council on climate solutions which will develop a plan to make Michigan carbon neutral by 2050.

In her executive order creating the council, Whitmer wrote that climate change “degrades Michigan’s environment, hurts our economy, and threatens the health and well-being of our residents.”

The Governor’s goal is to achieve economy-wide carbon neutrality by 2050, but environmental groups say a proposed plan to build a tunnel to house the Line 5 oil and gas pipelines is at odds with that plan.

Director of the Michigan Climate Action Network, Kate Madigan said the group has done “back of the napkin math” about the amount of oil and gas that move through the pipelines.

“Annually the products that flow through Line 5 when burned contribute between 50-60 million metric tons of climate pollution into the atmosphere,” she said. “This is equivalent to what the three most polluting coal-fired power plants in the country emit every year.”

Madigan said the carbon neutrality plan is a good one - but the state needs to go further.

“This is so much more ambitious than where we were before this announcement,” she said. “We need to applaud this plan, support it, and do more.”

Environmental groups, Michigan tribes, and even Attorney General Dana Nessel have called on Whitmer to shut down Line 5, noting that it was part of the platform that got her elected in 2018.

Bay Mills Indian Community President Bryan Newland noted in an August call with the press that the Governor’s language around the pipeline tunnel project seems to have shifted - suggesting she may be more open to building a tunnel.

Enbridge Energy, which owns and operates the Line 5 pipelines, has said it could complete a tunnel by 2024. The replacement tunnel has been proposed as a way of protecting the pipelines, which groups across the state worry are too dangerous to be kept operating.

David Holtz is with Oil and Water Don’t Mix, a group opposed to the tunnel project and the Line 5 pipeline. He said the tunnel project is unlikely to complete by 2024 and raises questions about how serious the state is about moving towards carbon neutrality.

“This new approach is incompatible with approving oil pipelines in the Great Lakes for ninety-nine years,” Holtz said.

According to Holtz, much of the oil and gas that flows through the Line 5 pipelines is used in Canada - and it could be possible for the state to argue that only the fuel being used within Michigan counts towards the state’s carbon output.

“Michigan could do that but the question for Michigan is what if everyone did that? Because what is this all about? It’s not about putting numbers on the board, it’s about keeping dangerous carbon emissions from entering the atmosphere to mitigate the effects of global warming,” he said. “We have to do that as a world community, not as islands of states with individual data points.”

A spokesperson for Enbridge Energy said in a statement that the company is committed to being part of the transition to a lower-carbon economy.

The Governor’s office did not respond to our request for comment.