Rashida Tlaib: Biden must revoke Line 5 permit before it destroys Great Lakes | Opinion

Clean water is a human right. We cannot allow greedy polluters to take that right away from us here in Michigan, or allow them continue to exploit our water for profit.

The Line 5 pipeline transports crude oil from Alberta through the Straits of Mackinac, the most critical part of the Great Lakes, operated by a Canadian company called Enbridge with a disturbing history of faulty infrastructure and environmental destruction, including right here in Michigan. For more than a decade, tribal leaders, environmental activists, elected officials and people from all walks of life across Michigan have been fighting to shut down Line 5, because anything that threatens the health of the Great Lakes threatens the health of our communities and our collective future.

The Great Lakes hold 21% of the world’s fresh surface water. More than 40 million people across multiple states, Tribal nations and Canada rely on the Great Lakes for drinking water. And they’re so much more than just drinking water: The Great Lakes are home to precious ecosystems and wildlife, and tens of millions of people rely on them for jobs, fishing, and recreation.

This should be taken more seriously by elected officials. It is a threat to our most critical source of water. This Canadian polluter is operating an aging, dangerous pipeline in our backyard. We can’t wait for a disastrous oil spill in the Great Lakes. There must be immediate action to eliminate this threat, which is why we need to shut down Line 5.

What some folks don’t know is that Line 5 started operating in 1953, with an intended lifespan of 50 years — we’re now at 71. This pipeline carries 23 million gallons of crude oil and natural gas daily, with almost all of it consumed in Canada. Essentially acting as a shortcut for the Canadian oil market, Line 5 crosses through Wisconsin and Michigan where our residents take on the risks. I am sick of our communities and the future of our planet being sacrificed for corporate greed.

In 2010, Line 6B, another Enbridge pipeline, ruptured alongside the Kalamazoo River, becoming the biggest inland oil spill in U.S. history. Enbridge’s employees monitoring the pipeline in a control room thousands of miles away in Alberta, Canada, took 17 hours to realize a spill had even occurred, allowing 843,000 gallons of heavy crude oil to flow into the environment. It took a decade to clean up the pollution, and the surrounding communities were forever changed. We should have learned our lesson.

Biden must protect the Great Lakes

The fact that Line 5 is located in one of the busiest shipping corridors on the Great Lakes, with daily opportunities for disaster should be enough. In 2018, an anchor strike damaged Line 5, spilling 800 gallons of mineral oil, and many experts believe it’s only a matter of time until there is a catastrophic oil spill that could spread quickly throughout the Great Lakes.

I think about our children and their future. Scientists have been warning us for years that in order to meet the climate goals needed to stave off the worst effects of the climate crisis, we cannot afford to build new fossil fuel infrastructure — especially when many frontline communities in Michigan are already living with increased health risks due to corporate polluters.

Despite this warning, state and federal regulators continue to issue new permits for oil and gas projects. On Dec. 1, 2023, the Michigan Public Service Commission ignored overwhelming opposition and voted to approve a key permit for more Line 5 infrastructure in the Straits of Mackinac. The Straits are much more than a shipping lane — they are a place with deep meaning for our Indigenous neighbors, whose treaty rights protect their ability to steward this resource.

There’s a resounding call in Michigan to shut down Line 5. Thousands of individuals have been organizing rallies, sending postcards and urging their elected officials to end this threat. Various legal challenges, permit processes, and environmental analyses are underway, but we can’t wait. President Joe Biden has the ability to protect our Great Lakes today by revoking Line 5’s presidential permit. I’m continuing to urge the president to step in to protect the Great Lakes and the millions of us who rely on this irreplaceable natural resource to survive and thrive.

Tribal nations across the Great Lakes opposing Line 5 remind us that “water is life.” And it’s true: There is no more precious resource than water. We cannot allow the water we rely on to live, the water that helps make Michigan such a special place for so many, to be sacrificed for corporate greed. Our residents deserve better. Let’s shut down Line 5, and end this threat.

Rashida Tlaib represents Michigan’s 12th District in the U.S. Congress. 

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