The following guest post was provided by Clean Water Action in Michigan, our state’s top environmental watchdog and advocate for clean water. If you’re not familiar with State Rep. Lee Chatfield, I urge you to read the piece I wrote about him last week titled “Northern Michigan Republican Lee Chatfield can’t control his guns or his campaign“. If you’re unfamiliar with why I call Enbridge Energy’s Line 5 “a catastrophe waiting to happen”, please read my post “After environmental catastrophe near-miss with Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline under Lake Michigan, Gov. Snyder issues sternly-worded press release“.
Shortly after Representative Lee Chatfield’s race for re-election chances in the 107th State House district was moved from the “Likely Republican” column to the “Lean Republican” column by Gongwer News Service, Representative Chatfield scheduled a last minute hearing of the Michigan Competitiveness Committee, which he chairs, for Tuesday to consider a package of insufficient bills relating to Enbridge Energy’s Line 5 pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac. Other committee members were not notified of the hearing until 12 p.m. on Monday.
The four bills were hastily introduced in June, shortly before the House left for summer recess. If passed, they would require the Department of Natural Resources to install more buoys and signage in the Straits of Mackinac, warning ships not to drop anchor. They would also set sentencing guidelines for ship captains who drop anchor in the Straits and require any company operating pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac to have oil spill response plans on file with the state, but would exempt those plans from the Freedom of Information Act.
Representatives Abdullah Hammoud and Erika Geiss offered several amendments that would have required any companies that own pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac to carry enough insurance to cover a worst case scenario spill, to expand the bill to cover all pipelines in the state, not just in the Straits of Mackinac, and to remove the oil spill response plan exemption from the Freedom of Information Act. All three amendments were supported by Democrats on the committee, and rejected by the Republican majority in party-line votes.
“These bills are mere window-dressing and would do nothing at all to mitigate the dangers posed by a massive oil spill in the Straits of Mackinac. They are not in fact about protecting the Great Lakes, but about being able to assign blame after a massive oil spill,” said Sean McBrearty, Michigan Program Organizer for Clean Water Action. “This begs the question, if Representative Chatfield and his caucus aren’t playing politics, and are actually interested in protecting the Great Lakes, why did they reject these reasonable and sensible amendments? We need representatives in Lansing who actually care about protecting our water, not representatives who try to move toothless bills out of concern for their own re-election chances.”
Under current state and Coast Guard regulations, dropping anchor in the Straits of Mackinac is already prohibited, and the U.S. Coast Guard, primary responder to an oil spill in the Straits, already has oil spill response plans on file. These bills that would duplicate those regulations now move to the House floor for a vote.