Why is Justin Trudeau pressuring Michigan to allow a dangerous oil pipeline? | Lana
Canada would be apoplectic if the US government marched into a Canadian court and argued that the province of Ontario has zero authority over an American company operating an aging, corroded pipeline under Canada’s pristine Georgian Bay. Yet this is the exact approach Canada is taking in US courts by arguing that the state of Michigan has zero authority to order the shutdown of an aging and dangerous pipeline operated by a Canadian company under the Straits of Mackinac – where any spill would have catastrophic ramifications for the Great Lakes.
Canada’s strained position is premised on ignoring the plain text of the 1977 US Canada Pipeline Treaty: “Pipeline[s] shall be subject to regulations by the appropriate governmental authorities … with respect to such matters as the following: (a) pipeline safety … ; (b) environmental protection.”
Canada’s arguments ignore the failing safety record of the Pipeline’s owner, Enbridge: in 2010 another of Enbridge’s pipelines burst, leaving Michigan suffering with the costliest inland pipeline spill in US history. Moreover, Canada’s case also omits the actual condition of the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline, which has suffered from nearly seven decades of anchor strikes and extreme deep-water currents in a busy shipping lane.
While contested interests between the two countries are not rare, this Pipeline 5 altercation is unusual in two ways. First, Canada is demonstrating extraordinary gall in asserting that a state cannot seek adjudication in US federal or state courts. Second, the US government has not taken a position overtly defending one of its state’s sovereign interests in this dispute.
Hyper-sensitive to Canadian pipeline politics, the Trudeau government has not seriously considered sensible policy changes that could protect the Great Lakes, address Canadian economic interests and respond to rising climate threats. Instead, the prime minister has staked out an environmentally and legally reckless position, one that will be robustly challenged by both Michigan and the Indigenous nations whose rights and stewardship of the Great Lakes long predate the pipeline.
To avoid responsibility and blame for a horrific Great Lakes oil spill, President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau must put Great Lakes protection before politics and together embrace the overdue Line 5 shutdown. If Trudeau refuses to join, Biden should exercise singular leadership and clarify his support for Whitmer’s well-reasoned shutdown order. Doing so before the Cop26 meeting in Glasgow would give Biden sorely needed international credibility.
In the pipeline business, everything is always “safe” – until the day it isn’t. A massive winter rupture in the relatively confined fresh waters of Lakes Michigan and Huron would make California’s recent Huntington Beach rupture into the vast waters of the Pacific Ocean seem like a mere footnote.
Lana Pollack was appointed by President Obama to chair the US Section of the International Joint Commission. The IJC was established by the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 to assist the US and Canadian governments in managing and protecting waters shared by the two countries. The views expressed are Pollack’s, not those of the IJC