After Ohio train derailment, time for a sober look at Line 5

Whitmer must face reality: Pipelines are far safer for transporting volatile materials than rail, truck, or airplane

The train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, was bad.

What came next, an allegedly controlled explosion that sent toxic chemicals into the firmament and back down into the air and water supply, was worse. Even as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency insists that readings show the area is safe, the prevalence of dead fish, dying pets and sick people indicate there’s more truth to be told.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg tried to put the East Palestine matter in context, saying there are 1,000 such train derailments per year in America. That’s just under three a day. Michigan had one just last week in Wayne County.

That train, reports Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Ann Arbor, was mostly empty and carried no hazardous materials. Whew.

But if the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline were gone — something Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has sought since taking office — trains would be the primary transport mechanism for the fuel that powers the Lower Peninsula. Some of those 1,000 derailments per year would happen in Michigan, and using trains to transport all the natural gas raises the odds that derailed trains would be carrying flammable materials.

That’s not a risk worth taking.

Mackinac Center senior editor Tim Cavanaugh wrote an explainer on Line 5. It reads:

Trains have a way of going off the rails, as Buttigieg noted. In the absence of Line 5, getting fuels from Point A to Point B would be risky business. There’s a reason pipelines were built after oil was transported by trains for decades. Trains came first. Pipelines were an advancement.

During the 2022 governor’s race, Whitmer played it coy. Her team did not respond to a CapCon query on her current view of Line 5.

“There has been no change to Line 5,” Whitmer said during one of two debates with Republican challenger Tudor Dixon. “No change.”

But that’s not for Whitmer’s lack of effort. She had ordered the pipeline to stop operating by May 2021.

As when Whitmer sought a 45 cent-per-gallon tax hike in 2019 and was saved by Republican legislators who denied it, Whitmer benefited from all the pushback on Line 5. The pipline is still operating, though unfortunately, a long-planned improvement to line safety remains on hold as the governor’s campaign grinds on.

Had Michigan suffered a grid collapse, one imagines Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel, who also opposes Line 5, would not have coasted to reelection. Reality saved them from themselves.

Show of hands: After seeing the wreckage in East Palestine, who wants Line 5 gone now, today? Whitmer? Nessel? Bueller?

Let this be a lesson to us. There is no risk-free scenario in life. There are only tradeoffs. And Line 5 is less risky for Michigan than using planes, trains or automobiles to transport fuel.

James David Dickson is managing editor of Michigan Capitol Confidential. Email him at

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.