It’s a matter of national security, says state Rep. Kurt Heise: Keeping information about oil and gas pipelines, high-powered electrical lines and other critical energy infrastructure out of potential terrorists’ hands.
But critics say Heise’s House Bill 4540, introduced Tuesday, protects something else: oil and gas corporations, like Canadian pipeline giant Enbridge, from public disclosures about safety and other records.
The Plymouth Republican’s bill would exempt from disclosure under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act information about existing and proposed energy infrastructure that “could be useful to a person in planning an attack” on it. It’s similar to federal critical infrastructure disclosure exemption rules enacted by Congress and President George W. Bush in the 2002 Homeland Security Act in the months after 9/11.
“We do not want people who may have ill intent to be able to locate the exact location of underground utilities, the pumps and surface machinery that may exist with those underground utilities, so they are protected from harm,” Heise said.
State Rep. Kurt Heise
State Rep. Kurt Heise (Photo: handout)
Environmentalists, however, said Enbridge and other oil and gas companies have lobbied hard for Heise’s bill, and likely have ulterior motives.
“It looks like a sweetheart bill for Enbridge,” said David Holtz, chairman of the nonprofit Sierra Club’s Michigan Chapter.
The bill is “a blanket exemption to FOIA that goes beyond federal law” and would keep secrets from those concerned about pipeline safety, he said.
“It would cover the condition of pipelines, the rate and outcome of inspections, the condition of welds, just about everything,” Holtz said.
The bill also comes as state Attorney General Bill Schuette and Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant are conducting a review of pipeline safety throughout the state, including on Enbridge’s 62-year-old Line 5 pipeline running under the Straits of Mackinac. A joint University of Michigan-National Wildlife Federation study last year found a pipeline break under the Straits would devastate a wide area of the Great Lakes and surrounding shoreline communities.
“Right now more information is needed about this pipeline, not less,” said Nic Clark, Michigan director of the environmental nonprofit Clean Water Action. “We need more sunshine laws and more opportunities for people to get their hands on information we ought to know.”
Enbridge spokesman Jason Manshum said the corporation supports Heise’s bill.
“We are among a number of energy entities that own and operate critical energy infrastructure in Michigan that are joining state police and regulators in supporting the bill, which would keep sensitive information out of the hands of bad actors who may seek to harm Michigan and its citizens,” he said in an e-mail to the Free Press.
An Enbridge oil pipeline ruptured near Marshall in July 2010, causing the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history and necessitating a four-year, $1-billion cleanup of the Kalamazoo River and Talmadge Creek.
Heise noted that local governments, regulators and first responders would still have access to all information about energy infrastructure they need. And his proposed law “does not necessarily end the discussion” for journalists, environmentalists and members of the public accessing certain information about pipelines and other energy infrastructure.
“Under FOIA, you always have appeal routes,” he said, adding there would be means to “work out accommodations” for others interested in energy infrastructure information.
The bill was assigned Tuesday to the House Committee on Oversight and Ethics.