A coalition of groups want the US Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a comprehensive independent environmental study of the state as part of a Canadian energy company’s plans to route a pipeline around a tribe’s reservation in northern Wisconsin.
Seven environmental, citizen and Indigenous groups submitted the letter to the federal agency on Aug. 29, including Midwest Environmental Advocates, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin and Honor the Earth.
Enbridge is proposing a $450 million plan to build a new 30-inch line that would run 41 miles around Lake Superior Chippewa’s Bad River Band Reservation. In 2019, the tribe sued the Canadian energy company in federal court to close and remove Line 5 from 12 miles of tribal land. The pipeline transports up to 23 million gallons of petroleum and natural gas liquids per day and stretches 645 miles from Superior through northern Wisconsin and Michigan to Sarnia, Ontario.
The Corps is analyzing Enbridge’s application for a permit under the Clean Water Act. The Corps regulates construction-related activities in federal waters affected by the Project, as well as Enbridge’s proposal to drill under the White River.
Rebecca Graser, the Corps’ St. Paul District deputy division chief, said the agency’s analysis under federal environmental law is a separate document the Corps will produce.
“I would say we are already pursuing an independent paper for this review of the project,” Graser said.
The corps plans to do an environmental assessment for the project, which Graser says will determine the need for a full environmental impact statement.
In 2020, Enbridge filed a joint permit application with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Army Corps. MNR released its draft environmental review of the project in December. The groups say the analysis did not sufficiently examine the ways the project could harm the environment, underscoring the need for an independent review.
“Tribes are concerned about their off-reserve usufruct rights,” said Paul Demain, chairman of Honor the Earth’s board of directors.
The Chippewa tribes of Wisconsin were granted usufructuary rights that guaranteed their ability to hunt, fish, and gather on land ceded to the federal government under the 1842 treaty.
“The treaty didn’t say they could have a clean body of water to grow rice in until Enbridge, a foreign company, came along and decided they wanted a pipeline through the area,” he said. Tomorrow.
“This is a project that would allow this aging fossil fuel infrastructure to operate for another generation. The National Environmental Policy Act requires that any federal action that has a significant impact on the quality of the human environment must undergo this type of environmental review,” said Tony Wilkin Gibart, executive director of Midwest Environmental Advocates. “We believe the proposal to keep Line 5 operational and build over 40 miles of new pipeline meets that standard.”
The Line 5 project is expected to cross approximately 200 waterways and dump dredged material in approximately 101 acres of wetlands. Enbridge said less than a tenth of an acre of wetland would be permanently affected by construction of the new section of pipeline. The EPA finds the impact is closer to 34 acres of mostly forested wetlands that would be permanently altered.
The groups allege that the Corps failed to provide adequate opportunities for public participation as part of Enbridge’s permit application. The agency issued a public notice in January and accepted public comments on the proposal until March.
An Enbridge spokesperson said in a statement that the environmental review conducted by the Wisconsin DNR and the Army Corps provides continued opportunities for the public to intervene.
“Enbridge is committed to protecting the environment — and has proposed a new 41-mile route, chosen because it minimizes environmental impacts and protects critical resources,” said Juli Kellner, spokesperson for Enbridge.
The Corps offers to share its draft environmental assessment with project stakeholders, including the EPA and the Bad River Tribe. Graser said the Corps had not yet decided to hold a public hearing, noting that there was no obligation to do so. The agency plans to request additional information from Enbridge about the project in a few weeks, and there is no specific timeline as to when a draft would be available.
Mark Graul of the Wisconsin Jobs and Energy Coalition said he believed the DNR was doing a thorough review of the project.
“We are happy to be part of this process as a coalition to try to encourage them to ensure that Line 5 can remain operational and provide us with the energy we need to live our lives,” Graul said.
Enbridge experts say in court closing Line 5 would increase gas, diesel and jet fuel costs by about $20 million a year in Wisconsin and $30 million a year in Michigan. Propane costs are expected to increase by at least $4 million per year for Wisconsin consumers and $38 million per year for Michigan customers
A University of Wisconsin economics professor estimated an annual loss of more than 6,000 jobs and about $5 billion in lost economic output due to production cuts or refinery closures in the Upper -Midwest. Tribal experts dispute these findings.
Enbridge plans to begin construction once all necessary permits have been granted.