Volume 29

The End of the Line: Shutting Down Enbridge Line 5, Still a Pipedream?

by Paul Leahy

Michiganders view the Great Lakes as central to our livelihoods, our leisure, and our way of life, as the “Great Lakes State” imbues residents with a special sense of civic pride and public trust. So when Canadian energy transportation company Enbridge spilled over 800,000 gallons of Albertan tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River in 2010, Michiganders, vowing not to repeat the mistakes of the past, asked whether it could happen again. Reviewing the state’s pipelines infrastructure in the wake of the spill, environmentalists made a startling discovery—an oil pipeline, Line 5, operated by the same company ran through the Straits of Mackinac at the very heart of the Great Lakes. Overnight, the sixty-four-year-old pipeline became a political lightening-rod in the tourismbased economy of Northern Michigan and a grassroots campaign began to “Shut Down Line 5.” But how? This Note examines whether pipeline safety laws offer a means of shutting down the aging pipeline. It argues that the safety laws themselves fail to offer an effective means for preventing a spill in the Great Lakes. The Note then examines two problems created by the pipeline safety laws: first, an asymmetrical information problem resulting from the lack of transparency of the pipeline safety regime; and second, an agency problem that grows out of the lack of accountability resulting from asymmetrical information. Finally, this Note argues in favor of the use of sunshine tactics as a remedy for both the information and accountability deficiencies of the pipeline safety laws and reviews timely bipartisan legislation that would compel greater transparency. Transparency would then either result in enhanced operational safety or compel the pipeline operator to shut the pipeline down.

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