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Mich. Pipeline Fight: Frustration Builds Over Elected Leaders' Silence

Amid puzzling indifference shown by elected officials over Enbridge's pipeline plans, townships are stepping up, opponents say—and giving them some hope.

Oct 17, 2012
U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow

At first, Katy Bodenmiller was dumbfounded by the response from U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a two-term Michigan Democrat.

Bodenmiller had written to Stabenow in early July asking why the senator and other Michigan officials hadn't weighed in on a plan by Enbridge Inc., a Canadian pipeline operator, to replace oil pipeline 6B, which slices across 210 miles of southern Michigan and through Bodenmiller's two-acre property.

Bodenmiller suggested to Stabenow that the project deserved extra oversight because Enbridge was responsible for a catastrophic rupture on 6B in 2010, which sent more than a million gallons of heavy crude oil into Michigan's Kalamazoo River. Bodenmiller hoped to open a discussion with the senator about Enbridge's "disrespect" of landowners along the line.

But to Bodenmiller's astonishment, the boilerplate letter she received from Stabenow began: "Thank you for contacting me about the Keystone XL pipeline."

Huh?

Certainly the Keystone project had drawn national attention for its plan to transport dilbit, the same kind of heavy crude oil that 6B carries, across the nation's heartland. But the Keystone route doesn't pass through Michigan. And Enbridge, the company that operates 6B, has nothing to do with the Keystone XL pipeline.

"That response was unforgivable," said Bodenmiller, whose bewilderment soon turned to anger. "I think it's their duty to have a keen interest in this pipeline.  How could she not know?"

Other landowners also have been frustrated by their elected officials' silence or lack of concern about the Enbridge project.  

Oceola Township resident turned activist Beth Duman, who has been fighting Enbridge over compensation for her property, said she has reached out to senators, congressmen, state legislators and local commissioners.

"I contacted both senators [Carl] Levin and Stabenow. They were polite but did nothing," Duman said.

"I met with [Congressman] Mike Rogers and took him petitions and he did nothing. I called my local representatives. They did nothing.

"I talked with my [township] supervisor. He was smiling but he didn't do anything."

In a blog that Bodenmiller's husband, Jeffrey Insko, created to track the Enbridge project, he called out five politicians not only for their indifference but also for catering to Enbridge.

"Evidently, there is not one elected official at the state or federal level in Michigan who has the interest or the gumption to utter a single word of skepticism or criticism—or even concern—about Enbridge," Insko said. "I find this silence shocking and shameful, especially on the part of the governor."

Insko described his contact with the office of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder as the most disheartening and frustrating of his encounters with public officials. He also reached out to state Sen. David Robertson, state Rep. Brad Jacobsen, U.S. Representative Mike Rogers and Stabenow.

"When we asked why the Governor had not made any kind of public statement about the Enbridge project, his office responded, essentially, "Why would he?" Insko wrote in his blog.

 "...They just couldn’t understand why we would be upset about Enbridge installing a new pipeline, and why we were calling the governor about it."

InsideClimate News left messages with each of those officials, as well as with Sen. Carl Levin and Rep. Candice Miller, asking to discuss the Enbridge project. The response so far has been silence.

So why this indifference?

Insko said he thinks elected officials tend to believe whatever Enbridge tells them, so they see no need to get involved

Jeff Axt, founder of the nonprofit advocacy group Protect Our Land And Rights (POLAR), thinks Enbridge's decision to handle the pipeline replacement as three separate projects instead of one large project made it seem less intrusive to the politicians.

But Barry Rabe, director of the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy at the Ford School at the University of Michigan, suspects it all boils down to politics. Because the 6B replacement directly affects only a small number of Michigan residents, politicians are likely to focus instead on issues they see as more threatening to their political careers.

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