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Enbridge Line 5 disclosures should be a wake-up call for Michigan business

Daniel Howes
Detroit News

Our Canadian friends at Enbridge Energy may have a Trump problem with their Line 5. You’ve heard about Line 5 by now. It’s the pipeline – laid in the mid '50s – before the Mighty Mac connected the Upper and Lower peninsulas.

Just a few months ago, tiny patches of coating were said to be worn off the pipeline. Now the company is telling the state and anyone else who cares – and in the Great Lakes State a lot of people care – there’s more missing.

This is the kind of rolling disclosure the Trump White House is elevating to a high art. Who knew it could go international? 

Look, Michigan business leaders should start paying a lot closer attention to the Missing Coating Caper. The stakes of a failure, which Enbridge pegs to be less likely than a new Ice Age, are far more than an environmental threat to the Great Lakes – 20% of the world’s fresh water.

A pipeline rupture at the heads of lakes Huron and Michigan could have major implications for automakers and utilities, health care companies and airlines, agriculture and “Pure Michigan” tourism.

It would affect the economy, property values, and once again tarnish Michigan’s image over water it fails to safeguard.

Flint water crisis, anyone?

Patrick Anderson, head of a prominent East Lansing consulting firm, says the state’s business community needs to get serious about the risk a Line 5 failure poses to them. He says many of them simply haven’t.

The silence from business is deafening.

And the state?

Governor Rick Snyder’s office pushed another statement this week saying the boss finds Enbridge’s latest mea culpa, quote, “deeply concerning.”  He says he’s “no longer satisfied with the operational activities and public information tactics” of Enbridge.

And state bureaucrats keep issuing statements unintentionally evoking Captain Renault in Casablanca: They’re “shocked, shocked” that Enbridge appears to be dribbling out the facts in richly Trumpian fashion.

This crowd in Lansing must make them quake north of the border. Enbridge is not a traditionally regulated Michigan utility. It’s not so easily swayed by political pressure or embarrassed by hair-on-fire environmentalists.

And all the while, the oil and natural gas products flow, customers are served, Enbridge collects revenue, and any reckoning gets deferred.

Company officials say Enbridge should be more “transparent” with the state, presumably because their rolling disclosures are now too egregious to deny. They say they “remain confident in the continued safe operation of Line 5.”

Of course they do – right up until they don’t.

The state and Enbridge cannot afford to make a mistake. Saying the company is “confident in the continued safe operation of Line 5” is not the same thing as proving it. That’s why the state and business leaders should demand it – for all of us.

In full disclosure, Enbridge Energy is a financial supporter of Michigan Radio.

Daniel Howes is a columnist at The Detroit News. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

Daniel Howes is columnist and associate business editor of The Detroit News. A former European correspondent for The News, he has reported from nearly 25 countries on three continents and in the Middle East. Before heading to Europe in 1999, Howes was senior automotive writer and a business projects writer. He is a frequent contributor to NewsTalk 760-WJR in Detroit and a weekly contributor to Michigan Radio in Ann Arbor.
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