Politics Biden mum on Line 5 dispute between Canada and top Michigan Democrat
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President Joe Biden faces pressure to fulfill an aggressive climate portfolio that reduces American dependence on fossil fuels, lowers gas prices ahead of the holiday season, and appeases an important diplomatic ally and trade partner that has invoked a decades-old treaty between the two countries over oil flow.
All three collided last week during Biden’s closely held meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose government has made clear that it is backing the Calgary firm that operates a pipeline Michigan Democrats have tried in vain to shut down.
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Biden faces pressure from a close ally, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, as well as environmental activists and tribal groups to arrest the pipeline’s function. Meanwhile, surging gas prices, a liability for a presidency already in political jeopardy with swing voters, threaten to collapse Biden’s sinking poll numbers further.
For years, oil and natural gas have moved from western Canada through Michigan and the Great Lakes to refineries in Ontario. But Whitmer has ordered that one section of Line 5, which crosses the Straits of Mackinac, be shut down, calling it a “ticking time bomb.” Leaders of Michigan’s 12 federally recognized tribes haveBiden to intervene, citing environmental risks to tribal lands.
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Enbridge digs deep in its spat with Michigan’s governor.Calgary-based Enbridge launched attack ads earlier this year targeting Whitmer, who has called the aging line a looming ecological disaster for the Great Lakes and campaigned in 2018 to shut down the pipeline. Her fight against Enbridge has since escalated, now involving the Canadian government and the Biden administration.
One year after Whitmer ordered the Line 5 gas pipeline closed, the White House has continued to walk a narrow tightrope. Whitmer and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel arewith the decades-old line.
Last month, as court-ordered mediation talks between the company that owns the pipeline, Enbridge, and Michigan’s government broke down, Canada invoked the. Line 5 fulfills nearly half of Ontario's and Quebec’s oil needs, as well as propane for Michigan.
After meeting with Biden Thursday, Trudeau told reporters that he had raised “concerns around the Line 5 situation.” But the White House has said little and declined to provide additional details on the discussion to the Washington Examiner beyond a State Department official’s public remarks. There was no mention of the dispute in an official readout of the sit-down. A planned press conference for a joint summit was also canceled.
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Biden’s position could leave him open, on one side, to criticism from environmental and tribal opponents and, on the other, from voters who blame U.S. policy for higher energy prices and Trudeau’s government. When Biden traveled to Michigan on Wednesday, Whitmer was out of town. Protesters calling for the shutdown of Enbridge’s Line 5 were outside the General Motors plant where Biden test-drove an electric Hummer.
Sources with knowledge of Biden’s meeting with Trudeau said the president told Canada that he did not intend to step out in front of treaty negotiators or the federal court case despite environmentalists’ pleas to intervene. Canada viewed the Line 5 discussion positively, and no public posture is expected from the Biden White House as it defers to the officials handling the dispute. The State Department is still negotiating the timeline and process for the treaty discussions, but a settlement in the treaty dispute would be expected to recognize Canada’s importance as a key U.S. partner.
The State Department, for its part, has publicly sought to avoid controversy on the issue.
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“The conversations were very dynamic. Things were supposed to finish around 6:30; they actually finished after 9 p.m. at night,” Brian Nichols, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western hemisphere affairs, told reporters on a call. “We were able to cover a huge range of issues.”
He added, “All the leaders are deeply committed to maintaining and strengthening the economic integration and the supply chains that we have throughout North America.”
Asked specifically about the American position regarding Line 5, Nichols demurred.
“The president and the prime minister noted the Line 5 litigation as ongoing, and we’re going to leave that in its legal challenge — legal channel and continue to work to strengthen our cooperation,” he said.
Biden’s climate and environmental justice goals are under scrutiny already.
On the campaign trail, Bidento inject $1.7 trillion into climate and environmental justice efforts over the next 10 years. By leveraging the private sector and other investments, Biden said total investments could reach $5 trillion.
Negotiations over the president’s Build Back Better plan have slashed these targets. The reconciliation bill passed in the House last week commits $555 billion to climate-related and clean energy projects.
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As Biden sat down with Trudeau, the White House shared a fact sheet on how a recently signed infrastructure spending bill would invest more than $13 billion directly into tribal communities, including funds for clean water and legacy pollution clean-ups, and boost their eligibility for “billions more.”
Mounting pressure over gas prices has sparked additional concerns for the White House, with a Bloomberg report stating that Biden may tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in coordination with other countries. Entreaties to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to boost production have so far fallen flat.
The White House told the Washington Examiner on Monday that while “no decision has been made” on releasing oil from the SPR, officials “for weeks” have said they are discussing means “to ensure global energy supply and prices do not imperil the global economic recovery.”
The official added that such “conversations are ongoing, and we are considering a range of tools for if and when action is needed.”
Biden could face electoral trouble if gas prices remain high and voters perceive actions by his government as responsible.
According to a recent Quinnipiac University poll, the president’s job approval rating has fallen to 36%, with his disapproval rating at 53%.
Notably, the president faces stronger objections to his handling of the economy than on climate change. Forty-one percent of respondents approved of the president’s work on climate issues, compared to 48% who disapproved. On the economy, Biden holds 34% approval, compared to 59% disapproval.
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Presidential approval ratings are oftento rising gas and food prices, both of which the White House now faces. The cost of goods for U.S. consumers jumped 6.2% in October compared to one year earlier, the most significant monthly rise in more than 30 years.
And the issue has taken on a partisan resonance, with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the state’s popular Republican governor, calling for $1 billion in gas tax relief. Since Biden took office, DeSantis and Biden have sparred over coronavirus restrictions, vaccine mandates, school reopenings, and more.
For Democrats in Michigan, a swing state that Biden has visited several times since January after a narrow, 50.6% to 47.8% victory against former President Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election, the pipeline issue could pose political problems.
Whitmer, who campaigned on closing down Line 5 over environmental concerns, faces challenging reelection prospects next year. Television and radio advertisements over her bid to shut down Line 5since early this year.
According to a Glengarriff survey of registered voters, the governor’sfell below 50% last month. A poll in September showed Whitmer her Republican challenger, Detroit Police Chief James Craig, by 6 percentage points, 44% to 50%, even as the Democrat continues to .
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