Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer won’t back off. Rather than show flexibility toward Canada in the confrontation over the vital Line 5 pipeline, she’s treating the good neighbour as badly as Donald Trump did, prompting a showdown.
She’s ordered the shutdown of the Enbridge Inc. line that passes through her state and supplies almost half the fuel needs of Ontario and Quebec. She threatened Tuesday to seize the profits of Enbridge if it doesn’t comply. It says it won’t.
This line has been in operation for 67 years without a leak into the Straits, but that doesn’t cut it with the uncompromising governor, a rising Democratic Party star. She alleges it is in ill-repair and could cause a horrific spill. She’s ignored a compromise reached by the previous governor, Republican Rick Snyder, that would see Enbridge bore an underground tunnel connecting Lake Huron and Lake Michigan as a replacement for the pipeline.
Ottawa has repeatedly raised the issue with U.S. counterparts to try to ward off a crisis. If the shutdown occurs, thousands of jobs would be threatened and gas prices would jump. But with the Democrats, the Liberals’ ideological soulmates, pals diplomacy hasn’t worked. So Ottawa filed a motion Tuesday with the U.S. District Court in Michigan saying Canada’s energy security is at risk and urging the court to prohibit a “unilateral compelled shutdown.”
The motion cites the 1977 Transit Pipelines treaty, which bars either country from interfering with the cross-border flow of oil. Should push come to shove that would appear to give Ottawa an advantage in the case.
The Trudeau government has already felt the sting of the new administration concerning pipelines with U.S. President Joe Biden’s cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline. Not getting his help to prevent a Line 5 shutdown would come as another blow from a president with whom Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has a warm relationship.
The governments are on the same page when it comes to climate change and a wide range of other progressive issues. But the same page also means a shared determination to transition away from fossil fuels. Mr. Biden and Ms. Whitmer, who campaigned against the pipeline in her gubernatorial election, are following their playbooks, while Mr. Trudeau sides with Enbridge.
Judging from social-media platforms and commenting websites, Western Canadians are enjoying seeing him and Easterners in the crosshairs. There are snide remarks to the effect of letting the Easterners freeze in the dark. Hey Quebec, one post said, how’s that Energy East pipeline you objected to looking now?
Of course, Western interests that supply the oil would take a hit as well if the line is closed. Michigan would, too, since the pipeline also delivers much of the propane used as heating fuel in the Wolverine State.
Although Line 5 has never had a leak, in 2010 a different Enbridge pipeline spilled millions of litres of oil into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. Environmental and Indigenous communities on both sides of the border support Ms. Whitmer’s position. Opponents scoff, citing what they believe would be increased risks from rail and truck transport of the fuel.
Mr. Biden appears bent on steering clear of the conflict, leaving it to state and the courts to work out. He is a fan of Ms. Whitmer. She was on his short list for vice-president.
The President will be well briefed on the situation as his Secretary of Energy, Jennifer Granholm, is not only a former governor of Michigan but also Canadian-born. She’s a big admirer of Canada, but she also has the responsibility of leading the administration’s transition into an era of clean renewable energy.
Kirsten Hillman, the Canadian ambassador in Washington, has expressed confidence that during the course of the litigation, Line 5 oil will continue to flow. Let’s hope she’s right. Canada has hired American Gordon Giffin, Ottawa ambassador during the Bill Clinton presidency, to head its legal efforts. He’s a strong choice, clear-headed and well connected.
Ms. Whitmer faces opposition to her aggressive posture in her state. The Detroit News, for one, says the wise course would have been to stick to the deal worked out by Mr. Snyder for the construction of a tunnel at Enbridge’s expense. It says her actions constitute an “arbitrary closure of a key piece of energy infrastructure” that risks damaging the close relationship with Canada.
That sounds about right. Calmer heads should prevail on this file. That’s one of the changes Mr. Biden was supposed to bring to bilateral relations post-Trump. Gretchen Whitmer never got the message.
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