Senior Correspondent for Detroit Public Television’s Great Lakes Bureau Gary Wilson says Governor Gretchen Whitmer has shown a pragmatic side in her willingness to reach a deal on a new pipeline and tunnel in the Great Lakes. However, Wilson, who recently interviewed the governor, says the court battle between Enbridge Energy and the state makes it tougher to come to an agreement.
Whitmer spoke recently at a conference in Milwaukee where U.S. governors and Canadian premiers from the Great Lakes region were gathered. During the conference, Wilson interviewed Michigan’s governor about a potential new pipeline and other issues.
Wilson says Whitmer is clearly frustrated with the process of trying to reach a deal with Enbridge. The governor believes that she has taken a political risk by extending an olive branch to Enbridge to negotiate on a tunnel to encase a new pipeline. Wilson says now that the case is in court, nobody can be sure what the future holds.
Whitmer has enjoyed support from both environmental groups and labor unions. Wilson says the governor is now walking “a really fine line.” The environmental groups want the line shut down for good, but the unions see a new pipeline and tunnel as an opportunity for more jobs. Wilson says “one of them is going to lose and they won’t be happy.”
Enbridge reached an agreement with the state while former Governor Rick Snyder was still in office that calls for the new pipeline and a tunnel to protect it. Wilson says there has been a notable shift in Enbridge’s posture since Whitmer took office. He says the company stayed quiet as the governor took steps to nullify the deal struck by the previous administration. But he says the company eventually decided they couldn’t continue to “play defense” and took a pre-emptive move by going to court.
Whitmer’s leadership style has been described as putting forward big ideas, and asking critics for suggestions, such as her proposal for a major road-funding package. On issues like auto insurance reform, the governor has shown a willingness to compromise and upset some of her political allies. Wilson says that style is evident on Great Lakes issues. He says Whitmer started from the position of wanting to shut down the pipeline, but Wilson says the she has given herself some room on the issue.