Nelson column: Line 5 needs to go

The trip would have been even better, however, had the president announced that he was removing the presidential permit for Enbridge's controversial Line 5, which threatens the air and water quality of our beloved Northwoods.

Tom Nelson
Tom Nelson
Contributed / Tom Nelson

President Biden’s trip to Superior this week after the State of the Union had much to like.

He promoted the bipartisan infrastructure package, which will deliver urgent help for Wisconsin, including the direly-needed rehabilitation of the Blatnik Bridge and new protections for our precious Great Lakes.

The trip would have been even better, however, had the president announced that he was removing the presidential permit for Enbridge's controversial Line 5, which threatens the air and water quality of our beloved Northwoods.

Now is the time, with opposition to Line 5 peaking and catastrophic climate change upon us.

Leaders like Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer , the heads of all 12 federally recognized tribes in Michigan and the Bad River Band of Lake Superior have urged Biden to stop this ecological disaster, along with so many of the concerned citizens of the Northwoods.


On Feb. 2, I was proud to be among the many ordinary citizens and the only Senate candidate who testified at the Wisconsin DNR hearing on Line 5 . It lasted until 2 a.m., and the opposition was overwhelming, with good reason.

Line 5 is an aging relic that threatens our environment, undermines the next generation of Wisconsin jobs, places an undue burden of risk on Wisconsin localities and violates the heritage and sovereignty of Wisconsin’s First Peoples.

Meanwhile, throughout the long debate about Line 5, the Canadian corporation that profits from this aging relic has presented Wisconsin with a set of totally false choices — either Wisconsin jobs or the environment. Either this antiquated heirloom or higher energy costs.

Now more than ever, Americans in Wisconsin and across the country are craving real leadership. Yet President Biden is more concerned with jetting to a midterm photo op in Superior than addressing the monumental problems currently facing Wisconsin families.

But we know better in Wisconsin than they do in a Canadian board room: Opposition to Line 5 is vital because we support Wisconsin jobs and lower energy costs, not to mention our Tribes’ sovereignty and our effort to break our shared dependence on fossil fuels.

The environmental threat posed by Line 5 is obvious and there is a reason Canada wants it to run it in our backyard instead of theirs, violating Tribal treaties along the way. It’s a rotten artery of fossil fuels that has spilled more than 26,000 barrels through 29 separate incidents over its 64-year lifetime.

The line crosses our Bad River and other watersheds that flow into Lake Superior, one of the greatest reserves of freshwater in the world. And these spills are occurring in remote areas of Tribal, state, county and private lands with little capacity and few resources to respond to the dangers posed by the spills.

But it’s not just the threat of spills that makes Line 5 unacceptable for Wisconsin. It’s unacceptable because it represents a continued and dangerous reliance on the very fossil fuels that are funding the Russian takeover of Ukraine and causing the ongoing and ever-escalating climate crisis.

We need to break this cycle of dependence and we can do this while creating good jobs right here in Wisconsin with a Blue-Green New Deal that can unite labor unions and environmental concerns.


For example, right now, as we speak, innovators in the Wisconsin paper industry are creating alternatives to petro-chemicals. Lignin is a next generation plant-based biofuel already being researched by scientists in Wisconsin. This means that Line 5 is bringing to market a commodity that will directly compete with Wisconsin goods and jobs.

And when it comes to replacing outdated energy infrastructure, there have been great advances in thermal pump technology that can be powered by geothermal, solar, wind and other renewable energy.

Instead of Line 5, let’s honor our treaties with our Tribes.

Instead of Line 5, let’s protect our water.

Instead of Line 5, let’s invest in a Blue-Green New Deal that builds sustainable infrastructure, lowers our energy costs, protects our environment and grows good-paying union jobs.

We need public servants who are not afraid to stand up to deep-pocketed corporations. I’m always humbled to know this seat was held by Gaylord Nelson and proud to not only share a last name, but also his commitment to championing an environmental vision that does right by our beloved lakes, rivers and wetlands.

I am hopeful President Biden shares our values and vision as well and will commit to stopping Line 5.

Tom Nelson is the Outagamie County Executive and a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate. 

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