The Conversation: Michigan pipeline standoff could affect water protection and Indigenous rights across the US

by Daniel Merino

Aug 16, 2023


Should states and Indigenous nations be able to influence energy projects they view as harmful or contrary to their laws and values? This question lies at the center of a heated debate over Enbridge Energy’s Line 5 pipeline, which carries oil and natural gas across Wisconsin and Michigan.

Courts, regulatory agencies and political leaders are deciding whether Enbridge should be allowed to keep its pipeline in place for another 99 years, with upgrades. The state of Michigan and the Bad River Tribe in Wisconsin want to close the pipeline down immediately.

My expertise is in Great Lakes water and energy policy, environmental protection and sustainability leadership. I have analyzed and taught these issues as a sustainability scholar, and I have worked on them as the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes regional executive director from 2015 until early 2023.

In my view, the future of Line 5 has become a defining issue for the future of the Great Lakes region. It also could set an important precedent for reconciling energy choices with state regulatory authority and Native American rights.

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