From the Headlines

November 20th, 2020

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Line 5 no more? Last week, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmerannounced she was revoking the easement for Enbridge Energy’s Line 5 oil pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac. Whitmer and Department of Natural Resources Director Dan Eichinger cited the company’s record — including ignoring structural problems like a lack of necessary supports for large stretches of the pipeline — in their decision. Whitmer is giving the company 180 days to stop the flow of oil, but expect legal disputes and delays. The order does not directly affect the company’s plans for a new pipeline in a tunnel underneath the Straits. (Bridge, AP)

About that new pipeline: One of the major arguments for Line 5 has been that the fuel channeled through the pipeline is necessary to meet the demand for propane in the Upper Peninsula and oil refineries in Southeast Michigan and Ohio. However, during a brief shutdown in June, gas prices did not rise significantly. “Enbridge could still go ahead with their current tunnel proposal, but it’s going to be much harder to prove to regulators there’s a need if Line 5 is already shut down,” Mike Shriberg, regional executive director for the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Regional Center said. The delays may eventually change the company’s mind. “At some point, they may walk away and say enough is enough,” Phil Flynn, an energy analyst at The PRICE Futures Group in Chicago, said. (Bridge, AP)

See you in court: Legal experts say that it may take years for challenges to the Governor’s order to play out in court. However, Whitmer’s use of the “public trust doctrine” —  which protects resources like navigable waters for public use — puts her in a strong position. Nick Shroeck, a professor of law at the University of Detroit Mercy, said that the state constitution supports the Governor’s position. It compels the state to “provide for the protection of the air, water and other natural resources of the state from pollution, impairment, and destruction. It makes protecting natural resources a paramount concern for our state,” he said. (Bridge)

The cost of lead poisoning: With roughly 7% of Detroit children testing positive for lead poisoning — nearly three times the state average — the city clearly has a problem and much of it is caused by lead-based paint in older homes. Lead poisoning can cause irreversible damage to the brain and nervous system in children, but removing the paint from homes can cost tens of thousands of dollars. This puts lead abatement out of reach for many Detroit homeowners and could force landlords to raise rents to cover costs. Public investment will likely be needed to fix the problem. Detroit is taking a small step toward doing so with a $9.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to finance lead-based paint removal in Southwest Detroit’s 48209 zip code. The Ecology Center and Michigan Network for Children’s Environmental Health estimate the state loses $270 million a year to lead poisoning’s impacts through healthcare and lost earnings. (Metro Times) 

Stop the shutoffs: According to a letter from State Sen. Stephanie Chang in Crain’s Detroit Business, 317,000 Michigan households are struggling with water insecurity statewide. Chang wrote that making sure these residents have access to running water for hand-washing and sanitation is key to mitigating the spread of COVID-19 — which is surging across the state — and that the health of the state’s economy ultimately depends on it. Chang is pushing the Legislature to pass Senate Bill 241, which codifies Gov. Whitmer’s previous executive order requiring water systems to restore water service to customers who had been disconnected and placing a moratorium on further shutoffs during the pandemic. (Crain’s)

La Niña and you: El Niño’s sister La Niña is having a moment and it could mean more snow in Michigan this winter. La Niña is a weather pattern where cooler-than-average surface temperatures occupy areas of the Pacific Ocean near the equator. These low temps influence the jet stream — the river of air that moves eastward over North America — producing colder temperatures in the Northwest and northern Plains, drier conditions in the southern U.S. and wetter conditions in Michigan, the Ohio Valley and the eastern Great Lakes. The last time this happened in Michigan was the winter of 2017-2018 when Detroit saw 61 inches of snowfall, 13 inches more than the average for the last 20 years. And increased precipitation — whether it comes as rain or snow — could mean more high water on the Great Lakes this spring, where levels are still well above their historical average. (Freep)

All eyes on Biden: Proposed cabinet members for Joe Biden’s incoming administration are receiving scrutiny as people try to discern how serious the president-elect is about climate change. The New York Times reports that those overseeing the transition are asking “is the person climate-ambitious?” about candidates, even those applying for low-level positions. Some would seem to fit the bill, including Mary D. Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board, who helped implement that state’s tough regulations on auto emissions and is being considered to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Others have received criticism from environmental groups, including Ernest Moniz who has advocated for natural gas and nuclear power in the past and is currently being considered for the new international climate envoy position. (NY Times, Reuters)


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