WGF Comments on Enbridge Line 5 Re-Route draft Environmental Impact Statement

WI Green Fire, April 20, 2022

Timber mat and construction equipment
Photo: John Spangberg

WGF 2022 Comments on Draft Environmental Impact Statement

In December 2021, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) released the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Enbridge Line 5 crude oil pipeline re-route in northern Wisconsin. Wisconsin’s Green Fire testified at the public hearing on February 2, 2022 and submitted written comments on April 15, 2022. After the WDNR evaluates the public comments, they will develop a final EIS. Find out more about the project by visiting the WDNR Enbridge project web page here.

WGF 2020 – 2021 Comments and Letters

Wisconsin’s Green Fire commented on the scope of the EIS and the waterway and wetland crossing permits in July 2020. WGF also joined several conservation organizations sharing concerns about the pipeline with the Council on Environmental Quality within the Executive Office of the President. See our November 2021 letter here.

Background on Enbridge Line 5 Re-Route

In operation since 1953, Line 5 runs from Superior, Wisconsin to Sarnia, Ontario, crossing through northern Wisconsin, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, under the Straits of Mackinac, and through the Lower Peninsula to Canadian refineries. In Wisconsin, Enbridge proposes to re-route the pipeline around the Bad River (Mashkiiziibii) Reservation, following a 2019 lawsuit by the Tribe, and expired easements on the reservation. The re-route would be upstream of the reservation, but still within the Bad River watershed flowing to Lake Superior in Ashland and Iron Counties.

Oil Pipeline Regulation in Wisconsin

A good source of information on how pipeline construction is regulated in Wisconsin is our series of two-page guides developed with Midwest Environmental Advocates available here.

The guides include information on environmental impact statements, agency permits and approvals, water permits, tribal rights, eminent domain, and local government regulation.

In Wisconsin, there is no overall pipeline siting law to determine if the pipeline is needed and where it should go. The WDNR has regulatory permit authority for waterway and wetland crossings, erosion control, wastewater discharges, air emissions, and protection of threatened and endangered resources. The EIS is an evaluation of many factors and is used to inform regulatory decisions and provide information to the public.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

The federal government also regulates several of the proposed waterway and wetland crossings. View information on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit application here. Wisconsin’s Green Fire commented to the Corps of Engineers encouraging the federal government to conduct an environmental review of the entire length of the Line 5 pipeline, considering impacts throughout its route in Wisconsin, the Straits of Mackinac, and through Michigan.

Line 5 Raises Multiple Issues

The proposed Line 5 project raises issues of energy policy, economics, environmental justice and equity, and environmental impacts. Continued reliance on fossil fuels and pipelines for crude oil transport has important implications for the environment as well as the current and future economy. The pipeline project poses environmental and community risks— oil spills, public safety, and continued fueling of climate change that impacts local and broader communities. The WDNR EIS should include a deep assessment of alternatives that take into account social, environmental, equity, and economic factors.

-The risk of an oil spill in the high-quality watersheds of the Bad River is a significant threat. WGF shares the concerns expressed by many organizations about Enbridge’s track record on spills. Spurred by intense storms, the devastating 2012, 2016, and 2018 floods in the Lake Superior region damaged infrastructure, including portions of Line 5. The projected increased frequency and severity of future storm events are likely to put the aging Line 5 increasingly at risk. The Lake Superior region’s steep and unstable terrain and soils combine to increase flood severity and increase the impact of and difficulty of responding spills– risking irreparable harm to Lake Superior, its tributaries, wetlands, and high-quality water resources.

The Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission website Pipelines in the Ceded Territories has information on crude oil and natural gas pipeline spill prevention, response, and impact.

-Chippewa Tribes and many citizens of the local communities who will be most impacted by this project are in strong opposition – raising important questions about environmental justice.

-The proposed project will include plans to blast through several streams with potential impacts to groundwater and private wells. These practices need to be much more carefully evaluated for potential long-term impacts to private property and private water supplies.

-Investing in new pipeline infrastructure today helps lock in years of additional reliance on fossil fuel, at a time when the United States urgently needs to shift to renewable energy sources. Public policy should take into account the climate change implications of continued investment in fossil fuel infrastructure.

WGF pushes for decisions to be based on adequate, sound scientific information and to make sure that the public and decision-makers have a thorough understanding of the issues and impacts of this project.

For more on our concerns and history of pipeline issues, see our 2020 eight-minute video here.