Does Nessel’s Opinion Really Force Enbridge’s Hand?

Editors' Note: MIRS asks a panel of political pundits to comment on Dana Nessel's Enbridge opinion, along with three other questions.

Michigan Attorney General Dana NESSEL has issued an official opinion blocking Enbridge, a Canadian-based energy transportation company, from building a utility tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac. The tunnel idea was supposed to provide Enbridge with an alternative to its Line 5, the underwater pipeline that has supplied fuel to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for more than six decades. It was adopted in response to growing concerns over potential spills.

In the aftermath of Nessel’s move, there’s speculation that Enbridge will challenge her opinion in the courts. However, some might ask: “why would Enbridge do that?” Arguably, stopping or delaying the tunnel from being built simply extends the life of Line 5 indefinitely, or at least until another viable alternative can be found. So, would it be surprising if Enbridge does not rush to court? MIRS asked

a panel of political pundits that question, and three other questions as well.

Q. How hard should we expect Enbridge to fight in court to be allowed to build a tunnel to replace Line 5, considering that – as long the tunnel isn’t built - Line 5 will likely remain in service?

Jen EYER, Partner, Vanguard Public Affairs, agreed with Sellek, suggesting Nessel would be willing to close down Line 5. “I’m not an attorney, and I don’t play one online either. But I will say this: Enbridge should not feel confident about Line 5 remaining in operation if the tunnel isn’t built,” Eyer said. “Attorney General Nessel made it very clear during her campaign that she believes the state has the authority to shut it down. And if she’s right, she’ll make it happen.”

Q. Even if tomorrow the Legislature allocated enough funding to “fix the roads,” many Michigan drivers wouldn’t immediately see (or feel) the difference anyway. To what extent does this “impact gap” effect how politicians approach this issue?

According to Eyer, the deplorable condition of Michigan’s roads can be attributed to the ‘impact gap’ and term limits. “The ‘impact gap’ is exactly why politicians have kicked the can down the road for so long on our roads,” Eyer said. “It’s important to remember that this particular impact gap is created and exacerbated by our draconian term limits here in Michigan. Because our lawmakers are in and out in six or eight years, depending on the chamber, they often don’t have to face the consequences of their actions – or inaction in this case. This is one of the strongest arguments in favor of extending the length of our term limits.”

Q. Reacting to Senate Majority Leader Mike SHIRKEY (R-Clarklake) saying the legislature would tackle the budget and the road funding issue separately, Gov. Whitmer said she’d veto any budget sent to her that didn’t include the road funding component. Would such a veto really be a politically viable option?

Eyer maintains that a budget veto would be a very viable political option. “Gov. Whitmer is not going to let the current Republican leaders in the Legislature get away with the same tricks they’ve been using for years to delay fixing the roads,” Eyer said. “She’s got them boxed into a corner now, and what better use of the veto could there be than demanding a plan to actually fix the roads, which was her number one campaign promise?”

Q. President Donald TRUMP came to Grand Rapids last week and promptly reversed his administration’s stances on funding for Special Olympics and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. While political observers complain that this shows him to be erratic, doesn’t it also show him to be more capable of jettisoning “losing issues” than what we’ve come to expect from most Republican politicians?

“I’ll believe Trump will fund the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative when I see it. Until then, he’s just talk,” Eyer said. “He is a snake oil salesman: He tells you exactly what you want to hear in the moment. Don’t confuse that with a thoughtful review of an idea that results in a reversal based on principal. Trump has demonstrated that he has no principals. Like a small child, he is driven by one primal need, and that is to feed his own ego from one minute to the next. If he thinks a crowd will cheer at funding for the Great Lakes, he’ll say it. That doesn’t mean he’ll do it.”

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