This article is part of Watching Washington, a regular dispatch from CBC News correspondents on US politics and developments affecting Canadians.
The White House said Monday it was awaiting a full environmental review before making decisions on the disputed Line 5 pipeline from Canada.
It might take a while.
At a press briefing on Monday, a spokesperson for US President Joe Biden was asked if the White House was considering shutting down the pipeline.
Karine Jean-Pierre denied that any decision had been taken. “This is incorrect. It is not fair,” she said, before adding that the project was undergoing a full environmental review by the US Army Corps of Engineers, announced there. months.
She then indicated twice that any decision on the fate of the route would be guided by the results of this review. “We are waiting,” she said. “There is a review and we are waiting.”
“The [environmental impact statement] will help inform any further action or position the United States takes on the replacement of Line 5. “
What is the context
The stake is a old pipeline carrying 540,000 barrels per day of oil and other petroleum fuels from Canada, through the Great Lakes, then to Michigan and finally to Ontario as the main fuel source for Eastern Canada.
The Michigan government ordered the pipeline closed, sparking a legal battle and court-ordered mediation. After Michigan moved to end mediation talks in September, Canada invoked a treaty between Canada and the United States limiting the ability of either country to prevent a cross-border pipeline.
The question presents a political conundrum for Biden.
On the one hand, environmentalists and the president’s allies in Michigan, a critical state for the presidential transition, want the pipeline closed for fear of potential damage to the Great Lakes.
On the other hand, it faces pressure to keep the fuel flowing. This pressure is coming not only from Canada, but also from national critics, as fuel prices have skyrocketed.
The background to Monday’s White House exchange was a weekend interview where Biden’s energy secretary recognized that home heating prices will be higher this winter.
Given the reality of rising energy prices, Fox News reporter Peter Doocy asked during the White House briefing why the president is considering shutting down another pipeline from Canada.
Calgary pipeline company Enbridge Inc. applies to build a new tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac, the narrow passage connecting Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, to house an updated version of its pipeline.
This is the project evaluated by the US Army Corps of Engineers.
The question has already become fodder in American partisan politics: The Republican Party tweeted a video of the exchange at the White House and prepared to hold Democrats accountable for rising energy costs.
Biden spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre admits that the Biden administration is “studying” the closure of the Line 5 pipeline.
If Biden shuts Line 5, millions of Americans could face higher energy bills this winter. pic.twitter.com/7ZJoDIBd0S
Monday’s comments suggest the issue won’t be resolved anytime soon.
A spokesperson for the Army Corps of Engineers said an assessment like this typically takes two years: first there is a preliminary phase, then a main phase of construction, then a draft study of environmental impact, which is followed by a final environmental impact study, and finally a decision on a permit.
The review has just started and is in its preliminary stages, said William R. Dowell.
“From beginning to end – [it’s] about two years. The process varies, but it’s the approximate time it takes. “