By Jack Phillips
The Biden administration is reviewing shutting a pipeline in Michigan after anonymously sourced reports said federal officials were quietly studying its potential environmental impact, a White House spokeswoman confirmed on Nov. 8.
When pressed by a reporter during a news conference, White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre disputed reports saying President Joe Biden is going to terminate Enbridge Inc.’s Line 5 pipeline, which stretches from Canada into Michigan. However, she conceded that the Army Corps of Engineers is reviewing the matter.
“Yes, we are. We are,” Jean-Pierre said. “I thought you were saying that we were going to shut it down, but that is not inaccurate. The Army Corps of Engineers is preparing an environmental impact statement to look through this.”
She added that “any reporting indicating that some decision has been made, again, is not accurate,” and an Environmental Impact Statement “will help inform any additional action or position the U.S. will be taking on the replacement of Line 5.”
Line 5 is part of a pipeline network that moves crude oil and other petroleum-based products from Canada, transporting some 500,000 barrels per day.
On Nov. 7 Politico reported that the administration is weighing the potential market effects of a shutdown of the pipeline in the face of Republican, Canadian government, and industry opposition. More than a dozen GOP lawmakers last week sent a letter to President Joe Biden, warning that the move would further cause gas prices to increase amid already-high prices.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, has also sought to shut down one segment of the pipeline, ordering Enbridge to stop operations in May due to concerns about a section running under the Straits of Mackinac leaking into the Great Lakes.
But in October, the Canadian government, which backs Enbridge and Line 5, escalated the dispute and invoked a decades-old Canada–U.S. treaty.
Protesters were able to force the shutdown of the pipeline for several hours on Oct. 20 after they trespassed onto a Michigan facility and tampered with the pipeline equipment. Line 5’s operator was able to get the pipeline up and running after several hours.
Last week, the Biden administration received a letter from Michigan’s 12 federally recognized Native American tribes, urging the president to back Whitmer’s effort to shut down the line.
“We view Line 5 as an existential threat to our treaty-protected rights, resources, and fundamental way of life as Anishinaabe people of the Great Lakes,” their letter said, according to the Detroit Metro Times.
And around the same time, Rep. Bob Latta, a Republican from Ohio, and 12 other members of Congress sent a letter to the White House, warning that closing the pipeline would further trigger spikes in energy prices.
“As we enter the winter months and temperatures drop across the Midwest, the termination of Line 5 will undoubtedly further exacerbate shortages and price increases in home heating fuels like natural gas and propane, at a time when Americans are already facing rapidly rising energy prices, steep home heating costs, global supply shortages, and skyrocketing gas prices,” Latta wrote.
Meanwhile, Jean-Pierre’s comment comes as Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, a former Democratic governor of Michigan, said in a Nov. 7 interview that winter energy prices will increase for most Americans and noted: “It will be more expensive this year than last year.”
The federal Energy Information Administration released a report in October stating that U.S. households that rely on natural gas to heat and power their homes could spend an average of $746 to heat their homes this winter, which is an increase of 30 percent from the previous winter. Gasoline prices, meanwhile, have continued to surge, with AAA data showing the average price of a gallon of regular gas rising to a seven-year high of $3.422.
Earlier this year, Biden signed an executive order suspending construction of the Keystone XL pipeline that would have transported crude oil to the interior United States from Alberta, Canada. That move also drew pushback from the Canadian government.
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