Biden must protect Great Lakes from oil spill threat

Last July, my family was honored to welcome President Joe Biden to our orchard in northern Michigan. As rural farmers we were thrilled to discuss the obstacles and issues most critical to our business with the nation’s top leader. Along with the many threats to local agriculture and family farming, one of the most important that we discussed that day was the looming threat that Enbridge’s Line 5 oil pipeline poses for our local business and our way of life here in the Great Lakes region. 

As the co-chair of the Great Lakes Business Network, I relayed to the president our reliance on the freshwater and the importance of the Great Lakes to our local economy. Our pure Michigan way of life supports 232,000 recreation-based jobs alone in our state. But the greatest threat to our economy remains another catastrophic Enbridge oil spill, like the 2010 oil spill, which devastated the Kalamazoo River. A pipeline rupture would be devastating to our region, with researchers at the University of Michigan reaffirming that the ecologically sensitive Mackinac Straits would be the “worst place in the Great Lakes for an oil spill.” 

That’s why we were heartened that during his visit, the president voiced his steadfast support for protecting our water and reducing our reliance on fossil fuels in order to ensure a healthy planet for future generations to come. He also indicated his support of Gov. Gretchen WhitmerGretchen WhitmerMichigan prosecutor calls state gun laws 'woefully inadequate' 65M women could lose abortion rights in Supreme Court case Judge orders pro-Trump election lawyers to pay 5,000 in sanctions MORE (D) and her legal authority over the 1953 easement held between Enbridge and the state of Michigan.

ADVERTISEMENT

That executive support for our governor has never been more critical than now, since earlier this month Canada wrongfully invoked the never before used 1977 Transit Pipelines Treaty. Their recent move seems like an attempt to exploit our nation’s judicial system and create purposeful delays on behalf of a Canadian-based oil company. 

But the language of that treaty is clear. Article IV reaffirms the rights of the appropriate state and federal government authorities — in this case Whitmer — to regulate pipelines with respect to “pipeline safety” and “environmental protection.” Whitmer cited violations the terms of the easement order by Enbridge, including unsupported spans of pipeline that compromised the pipeline’s structural integrity, numerous failures of its anti-corrosion coating, and evidence of historic neglect dating back years — leaving no choice but to revoke the easement. Simply put, it is not only Michigan’s right, but our governor’s duty to protect our state’s freshwater resources from the threat of Line 5. 

We are grateful that Biden expressed his commitment to protecting the Great Lakes and the legal authority of Michigan’s leaders to ensure that Enbridge is held to account. Now, we urge the president to publicly express these same sentiments and put to rest Canada’s attempts at fabricating legal delays. 

Juliette King McAvoy is the co-chair of the Great Lakes Business Network and vice president at King Orchards.