Detroit News. Feb. 22, 2021.

Editorial: Energy emergency shows value of Line 5

Michigan doesn’t have a propane shortage, despite Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s declaration of an energy emergency over the weekend. But it risks having one if the governor gets her way on shutting down the Line 5 petroleum pipeline.

Whitmer, a spokesperson explained, joined 34 other states in declaring the emergency based on the recommendation of energy experts at the Public Service Commission to deal with increased demand for propane from the cold snap and the delivery challenges presented by icy road conditions.

Her order suspended the maximum limits on the daily hours tanker truck drivers can stay on the road.

The administration acknowledged that, unlike other states hit hard by last week’s winter storm, Michigan is not short on propane supplies.

Thank Line 5 for that.

The dual pipeline runs under the Straits of Mackinac and carries petroleum products to refineries in southern Ontario, Michigan and elsewhere.

It moves resources that account for 55% of the propane used for heating fuel in the Lower Peninsula, and 65% in the Upper Peninsula.

That assures uninterrupted delivery of propane that otherwise would have to be transported largely by tanker trucks that are susceptible to weather conditions, traffic and driver shortages. Without Line 5, hundreds more propane tankers would be on Michigan’s roads.

Largely because of the reliability of Line 5, Michigan residents who depend on propane avoided the tragedies that unfolded in Texas and other states when heating fuel supplies were cut off.

Whitmer made the shutdown of Line 5 a core campaign promise when she ran for governor in 2018.

She continues her fight to remove the line from the Straits, even though the operator, Enbridge, is well on the way to replacing the existing pipeline with one that will be buried 100 feet below the lake bed in a virtually leak-proof concrete tunnel.

That solution, negotiated by former Gov. Rick Snyder and paid for by Enbridge, would remove the environmental threat of the more than 60-year-old pipeline.

But it doesn’t satisfy Line 5′s opponents, who see the pipeline as an enabler of America’s fossil fuel economy.

Whitmer should look hard at what happened in Texas and other states where energy supplies were disrupted to tragic consequence in part because of wrong-headed energy policy.

Line 5 is a Michigan asset that keeps energy supplies flowing despite the weather and prices lower than they would be if those petroleum products were transported by road or rail.

Whitmer should recognize the advantage the pipeline provides Michigan, drop her attacks on Line 5 and join with Enbridge in getting the Straits tunnel built as quickly as possible.

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Traverse City Record-Eagle. Feb. 26, 2021.

Editorial: State officials can’t keep blocking public information

Michiganders simply don’t view numbers the same way they did one year ago.

We all have been buried in digits since March 10, 2020 when the first case of COVID-19 was detected in our state. We’ve tracked — among dozens of other things — infections, mask inventories, tests administered, positivity rates, recoveries, vaccines and deaths.

Those numbers have formed the datasets government officials and politicians in our state and abroad used to make decisions about how to best react to the pandemic.

That’s why Record-Eagle journalists in early January asked officials at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to send us a list of people whose deaths the agency has linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.

We wanted to publish a list of the names, ages and hometowns of all the people represented in that now five-digit number of deaths public health officials in our state have attributed to the pandemic. We wanted to provide our community, and the state, something more than a number to explain the loss more than 16,000 families in Michigan have shouldered during the past year.

It was a pretty simple ask, really. Just a few categories from a database the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services maintains, a running list of information contained in official death certificates filed in each of the state’s 83 counties.

But we were blocked.

MDHHS officials told us they would be happy to provide the names of the more than 100,000 people who died in our state during the year, but they were unwilling to provide the cause of death listed on each death certificate — a public record in our state.

Since January, those same state health officials issued new rules that prohibit in-person inspections of death certificates at county clerks’ offices in the state. That change came after someone at MDHHS caught wind the Ingham County clerk was allowing journalists there to inspect death certificates in-person at her office to create their own list.

This absurd curtain pulling by state officials to obscure otherwise public records is baffling. Most information contained in a death certificate is released routinely by county medical examiners in autopsy reports.

Probably more perplexing was an offer by the state health overseers to provide death certificates so long as the folks requesting them paid a $30 fee for each certified copy. So, in their book, the information is public, but only if someone is willing to pay roughly $482,000 to get it.

That’s a duplicitous response considering those records were created and are maintained on taxpayers’ dime.

Such murky machinations leave us wondering why state officials who repeatedly remind us of the toll COVID-19 has taken on our state would institute such an information tax? Why wouldn’t they be willing to provide us the database they rely upon to make policy decisions that affect us all? Why wouldn’t they be willing to provide Michiganders the names behind that most important number?

To date Michigan officials have attributed the deaths of more than 16,000 of our neighbors, family and friends to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It would be nice if we knew their names.

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Alpena News. Feb. 26, 2021.

Editorial: Whitmer needs to consider restaurants’ proposal

We’ll begin with this statement: We do not believe you can negotiate with a virus. Unlike most any other public policy issue, COVID-19 cares nothing for our political compromise or bipartisanship, and only science can tell us what will truly keep us safe.

That said, one major weakness in the state and federal government’s coronavirus response has been a lack of definition about what “safe” really means. We understand that cases, hospitalization rates, and deaths going up is bad and the inverse is good, but no one has ever clearly articulated what threshold might trigger action. How bad do things have to get before we shut things down again? How good before we open? Is there some data point that triggers something in between?

The government has shared lots of data, which is useful and appreciated, but never said exactly what the data should say for us to expect change.

In the absence of such clear guidelines, we are left — at least seemingly — waiting on the whims of whoever occupies the White House or the governor’s office to tell us when we can get back to work. No matter how hard the president or governor works behind the scenes to make his or her decisions based on science, the lack of benchmarks leaves the government open to criticism as “tyrants” and “dictators” single-handedly controlling our lives.

It also adds to confusion and uncertainty that cause real harm in people’s lives and stifles the economy.

So we are intrigued by a recent proposal from Michigan restaurant advocates to link the tightening and loosening of indoor dining restrictions directly to specific data points.

We don’t know if the data the restaurants want to use is the right data or if their benchmarks are the right benchmarks, but imposing some sort of clear guardrails would bring some level of certainty and hope to what has been a full year of confusion and worry.

The restaurateurs’ proposal at least seems like a good starting point for a discussion, and a proposal made in good faith about how we can best balance the real harm caused by a downed economy with the real harm caused by the pandemic.

We hope Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s team is looking at the proposal carefully and, if that’s not the right set of metrics, that she tells us why.

END