Lawmakers seek to make pipeline information harder to obtain

State Rep. Kurt Heise, R-Plymouth, has introduced a bill to exempt information about energy infrastructure from the Michigan Freedom of Information Act.

State Rep. Kurt Heise, R-Plymouth, has introduced a bill to exempt information about energy infrastructure from the Michigan Freedom of Information Act.

A group of Republican lawmakers say they’re only trying to protect Michigan’s energy infrastructure from terrorists. But critics see a much less noble motive for a bill introduced last week in Lansing — namely, making it easier for oil and gas companies to operate in secrecy, keeping information about pipeline safety from the public.

HB 4540, introduced by Rep. Kurt Heise of Plymouth, would exempt various information about energy infrastructure from the Michigan Freedom of Information Act. According to the bill’s text, the information that could be kept secret includes anything that “relates details about the production, generation, transportation, transmission, or distribution of fuel or energy” or information that “could be useful to a person in planning an attack on critical energy infrastructure.”

Heise told the Detroit Free Press in a story published Friday that “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.” But environmental groups see it as a valentine for pipeline companies like Enbridge, whose pipeline rupture in 2010 polluted 25 miles of the Kalamazoo River and cost over $1 billion to clean up. 

“What Michigan needs is more transparency about the pipeline’s safety, potential harm, and alternative routes, not less,” David Holtz, chair of the Michigan Chapter of the Sierra Club, said in a news release criticizing the bill. “Pipelines leak, and as we saw in Kalamazoo, when there’s a breach, it can be catastrophic. Yet Enbridge refuses to release any documents related to pipeline inspections and now wants the state of Michigan to sanction that secrecy.”

The Line 6B Citizens’ Blog, a website focused on pipeline issues, writes: “National security risks are nothing new. Nor are pipelines in this state, which have been operating in this state for decades. So why this concern now, all of a sudden?”

The bill is cosponsored by Mike Callton, Andrea LaFontaine, Lisa Posthumus Lyons, David Maturen, Jason Sheppard, Jon Bumstead, Paul Muxlow, Eric Leutheuser, Bruce Rendon, Rick Outman and Ed McBroom.

A search of campaign finance records on the Secretary of State’s website shows that all of the sponsors received financial support from the energy industry in their 2014 campaigns. DTE Energy and CMS Energy are the names that appear most frequently, but Marathon Petroleum, the Michigan Petroleum Jobbers PAC, and the Wisconsin Electric Power Company Michigan PAC also make appearances.

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