Local leaders rally in support of Line 5 pipeline

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May 7—Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted made a return visit Thursday in support of Toledo-area refinery workers, steelworkers, and other laborers whose jobs are believed to be at risk if Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer prevails with her plan to have Calgary-based Enbridge Energy permanently cease operations along its 645-mile Line 5 pipeline by next Wednesday.

Although Governor Whitmer — backed by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel — gave Enbridge a May 12 ultimatum last November, the pipeline company has vowed to continue sending its normal flow of crude oil and other petroleum products through the pipeline, which was constructed in 1953.

Line 5 is controversial because a four-mile portion of it flows beneath the Straits of Mackinaw and, thus, through one of the world's largest collections of freshwater.

A tugboat's 2018 anchor strike on it did not result in a release, but it was a wake-up call for environmentalists and others, including Native American tribes. They now contend the risk is intolerable.

Ms. Whitmer and Ms. Nessel, both Democrats, vowed to close it down in their successful campaigns for the respective offices they assumed in early 2019.

Mr. Husted's latest appearance was at the Northwest Ohio Building Trades Council's headquarters at 1600 Front St., in East Toledo. It largely echoed a similar visit he made in 2019 to the nearby PBF Energy Toledo Refining Co plant.

He reiterated that he and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine are trying to get their Michigan counterparts to back off, fearing massive job losses and a higher cost of living in the Midwest — but especially northwest Ohio — if the pipeline is closed.

"The ripple effect from this will leave no one untouched," Mr. Husted told a roomful of about 30 public officials and labor leaders. Many of them — including Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz — are Democrats who spoke out against what Ms. Whitmer and Ms. Nessel are trying to do.

Mr. Husted told reporters after the hour-long roundtable discussion he has rarely seen Ohio Democrats and Republicans show such unity about an issue.

Line 5 serves PBF Energy's 124-year-old Toledo refinery, which employs 585 people, and the BP-Husky Toledo refinery in Oregon, which employs 625 people, as well as facilities in Detroit and Sarnia, Ont.

In addition to producing locally purchased gasoline for motorists, area refineries also produce much of the jet fuel for Detroit Metro Airport and Toledo Express Airport.

Scott Hayes, Toledo Refining's health, safety, environmental and governmental affairs manager, said the impact on local gasoline prices could be "in the dollars, not cents" if Line 5 closes, and claimed the cost of many household products that use petroleum-based chemicals — from plastics to clothing — would likely rise, as well.

Mayor Kapszukiewicz said the impact could even lead to higher water rates.

"That impact is unnecessary," Mr. Husted said, agreeing with the refinery, labor, and local political leaders that Michigan should give Enbridge's proposal to build an underground tunnel a chance.

Enbridge negotiated a deal to construction a $500 million tunnel beneath the Straits in the fall of 2018, shortly before former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, left office.

Such a tunnel would be built 100 feet below Lake Michigan's lakebed.

Enbridge has said it would shield the pipeline from any future anchor strikes and myriad other threats, including vandalism while providing inspectors access for more regular inspections.

It was originally expected to take a decade to build, but the company has since said it could put it on an expedited schedule with faster permitting.

Line 5 provides 42 percent of the products refined throughout northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan, according to Mr. Hayes, who claimed more than 2,100 semi tractor-trailers would need to be on highways to transport that amount of product if the pipeline is taken out of operation.

Mr. Husted agreed that would "cause more environmental [risk] than it would solve," and agreed it would help drive up climate-altering greenhouse gases.

He and Mr. DeWine are Republicans, as is Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, who also wants the pipeline to remain in operation.

Justin Donley, United Steelworkers District 1 Local 912 president, told The Blade that the labor organization is hosting a rally in support of the pipeline on the grounds of the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing on Tuesday.

The group has obtained a permit to place 1,200 hard hats on the Capitol lawn that day, he said, while he, Mr. Hayes, and possibly others testify at legislative hearings that day.

First Published May 6, 2021, 3:26pm

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