By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — As Michigan far left Gov. Gretchen Whitmer schemed to shut down the vital Line 5 pipeline, Whitmer’s office was lobbying Gov. Tony Evers to get on board, documents obtained by Empower Wisconsin through an open records request show.
An email from Mark Totten, Whitmer’s chief legal counsel, sent on Feb. 26, 2021 to Evers’ top legal adviser Ryan Nilsestuen, alludes to a previous meeting between the two liberal governors.
“Hope you’re well! I know Governor Whitmer had a brief call yesterday with Governor Evers regarding a request for support of an amicus brief. I wanted to see if we could find 10 minutes today or early next week to discuss by phone,” Totten wrote in the email, with the subject line, “Amicus brief Michigan case.”
Records released to Empower Wisconsin by the Evers administration don’t include other communications regarding the meeting between Evers and Whitmer, and there is no further communication regarding any action Evers and his team took.
The case in question is Michigan’s lawsuit against Canada-based oil company Enbridge Energy LP. Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel, also a Democrat, campaigned in part on shutting down the pipeline through the Straits of Mackinac. They charge that a spill from the pipeline would be devastating to Michigan’s environment and economy.
But closing Line 5 would cause serious energy and economic disruptions to Michigan and large swaths of the Upper Midwest. The nearly 70-year-old pipeline carries as much as 540,000 barrels of light crude oil, light synthetic crude oil and natural gas liquids a day through Wisconsin Michigan and Canada. With energy prices already soaring this heating season, shutting down Line 5 would make matters much worse for Wisconsin residential and industrial consumers.
Evers has been mostly silent about Michigan’s lawsuit and the international legal battle going on between Canada and the United States over the pipeline. But Attorney General Josh Kaul in 2019 signed onto a lawsuit with AGs in Minnesota and California charging Enbridge has “no right to interfere with Michigan’s right to preserve its lands for public public benefit.” The Democrats asked a Michigan court to reject Enbridge’s claims that the federal government, not Michigan, has authority over the multi-jurisdictional issue.
In October the Canadian government invoked a 1977 treaty protecting Canada’s pipeline rights.
U.S. Rep. Tom Tiffany (R-Minocqua), who represents Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District, said he wants to know if Evers is going to take the same environmentally extreme approach as Whitmer, who would have “people freeze” for the sake her her liberal ideology.
“If they shut down that pipeline … it’s going to have a deep impact on prices for everything from propane to crude oil to you name it,” Tiffany said. “Is Gov. Evers going to stand up for the people of Wisconsin? Or is he going to stand with Gov. Whitmer, who clearly does not have the interests of the Upper Midwest in mind.”
There’s concern all around, as frigid January temperatures drive up demand and heating bills. Cutting energy supply, particularly during a supply-chain crisis, would be a recipe for disaster, Tiffany said.
The Biden administration in November had to clarify that it was not considering shutting down the pipeline after a White House spokesperson said as much. But one of Biden’s first orders of business nearly when he took office a year ago was to shut down construction of the the Keystone XL Pipeline. That move killed thousands of jobs in cutting a major domestic energy supply line. It also set a costly precedent, Tiffany said.
“(The president) broke a contract with a private company from Canada. That sent a terrible message to the rest of the world that you can’t count on America to uphold a contract,” the congressman said.
If the Biden administration orders or allows the shutdown of Line 5, it will send a message to the rest of the world, particularly one of its strongest allies in Canada, that the U.S. doesn’t honor its treaties, Tiffany added.