It is now three years, three months since the formation of the first of two State of Michigan task forces to examine petroleum pipeline safety — and the end of the pipeline is not in sight.

In fact, the end receded another 6 months this week when state officials decided to complete a study of spill risks posed by Enbridge Line 5 at the Straits of Mackinac — which they had shelved due to conflicts of interest on the part of the contractor.  Putting Michigan Tech’s Great Lakes Research Director, the respected Guy Meadows, in charge of bringing the study is not a bad idea.  But completing the study is a waste of time in the first place — unless your game is delay.

Punting has been the political game from the start.  Put on the spot by Enbridge’s record-breaking pipeline spill in the Kalamazoo watershed in 2010, and then a compelling video of the ill-maintained Line 5 commissioned by the National Wildlife Federation Ann Arbor office (thanks, guys!), the Snyder Administration created the Petroleum Pipeline Task Force in 2014 — an election year.  That deferred any charges that the governor was lax past his re-election.  Now the second board, the Petroleum Safety Advisory Board, is plausibly on a path to kick any tough decision down the road to Snyder’s successor.

After all, when Dr. Meadows’ study comes in, a 60-day comment period will be needed, then a 90-day period for the Board to cogitate, and then…

All this after Enbridge has convincingly demonstrated its incompetence at stewardship and communications.

Two takeaways:

  1. Gov. Snyder has a chance to become a Great Lakes hero by shutting the pipeline down.  Ineligible to run again for governor, he has no political future to worry about, nothing that Enbridge can deny him.  Snyder does not have to wait for a study.
  2. The task of a task force is to buy time.