2015-08-08 / Columnists

Michigan Politics

Candidate Lon Johnson: Close Straits Oil Pipeline
By George Weeks

In his bid to replace 1st District U.S. Representative Dan Benishek (R-Iron River), former Democratic State Chairman Lon Johnson last week called for immediate closing of the aging oil pipeline under the Mackinac Straits. His supporters suggest Benishek is too cozy with its owner, Enbridge Energy.

Noting that the 62-year-old Line 5 pipeline carries more than 500,000 barrels of oil and other liquid products every day, Johnson said it should be shut down “so that it can be independently inspected and confirmed to be 100% safe.”

Johnson, who lives in Kalkaska County, said the recently released Michigan Petroleum Pipeline Task Force Report, cochaired by Attorney General Bill Schuette and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant, “has not fully disclosed the actual results of most of the inspections or the limitations for the test methods used.”

He said: “Michigan, and the world, depend on the Great Lakes. The impact of an oil leak from an aging pipeline upon our health, economy, and wildlife is immeasurable and too important to be risked.”

(In July, I wrote that the report, while criticized by some environmental groups that wanted immediate closing, “had a good opening salvo against threats posed by” the pipeline of the Canadian company that is responsible for the horrendous 2010 spill of more than 840,000 gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River, floodplains, and wetlands. Johnson is among many who dispute it as a good opening.)

Of interest to me now is how the 1st District oil issue has sparked national partisan commentary on the Up North congressional race. Consider this to me from Sacha Haworth, Great Lakes press secretary with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee:

“It’s a fact that Congressman Dan Benishek was in D.C. raising money from the Koch brothers, who use their billions to weigh undue influence on members of Congress over issues such as environmental cleanup and tax breaks for big oil special interests, while Lon Johnson was engaging voters in matters of pipeline safety and protecting the Great Lakes.

“This stark contrast, as well as Benishek’s previous anti-environment votes and broken term limit pledge, demonstrates there is only one candidate in this race who truly has the interests and well-being of the people of Michigan’s 1st District at heart, and that candidate is Lon Johnson.”

I cite Haworth comments not to tout Johnson, but as an example of national support that a local congressional contender gets in key races, as this race is for both national congressional committees.

In response to Johnson, Benishek press secretary Philip Christofanelli said Benishek “agrees that protecting the Great Lakes is of the utmost importance, and that includes ensuring the safety of the Enbridge pipeline. As such, he has called for increased inspection of the pipeline and reviews to ensure that all federal pipeline safety laws are being followed properly.

“He frequently met with Enbridge executives and other stakeholders to discuss the future of the pipeline. In addition, Dr. Benishek supports many of the recommendations made by Governor Rick Snyder’s task force. Dr. Benishek will continue to work with federal officials, Governor Snyder, local residents, and all interested groups to protect the Great Lakes.”

One headline in a Democratic statement said Benishek and his wife “Traded As Much As $30,000 in Exchange-Traded Fund Heavily Invested in Enbridge.” Benishek’s camp said only 3% of their investments related to Enbridge.

Benishek Amendment Added to VA Reform Package

Benishek, who spent 20 years as a surgeon at the Iron Mountain VA facility and now chairs the House Veterans Health Subcommittee, scored a victory for veterans last week when the House passed legislation to overhaul how the VA operates and manages problem employees.

He said his amendment would require the VA to name individuals within the department who are responsible for fixing problems identified by Inspector General reports. He said the legislation, yet to be acted upon by the Senate, “will ensure that we can hold bureaucrats at the VA accountable to those who have risked everything to protect our country and our way of life.”

Mackinac Draws GOP Presidential Hopefuls

Most of the focus of the huge field of 17 contenders for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination has been on Iowa’s caucuses and New Hampshire’s primary. But Michigan has had a stream of visiting contenders, and as of this writing, five of them are scheduled to speak at the 31st Michigan Republican Leadership Conference September 18 to September 20 on Mackinac Island.

They are Ohio Governor John Kasich, who made a July 27 Michigan swing, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, ex-Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina.

The Michigan Republican primary is March 8.

George Weeks, a member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame, for 22 years was political columnist for The Detroit News, and previously with UPI as Lansing bureau chief and foreign editor in Washington. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.

Return to top

Click here for digital edition
2015-08-08 digital edition