Nessel asks court to shut down Line 5, dismiss Enbridge lawsuit

By: - June 27, 2019 12:02 pm

Mackinac Bridge | Susan J. Demas

Updated 2:50 p.m. with a letter from Senate Republicans

Attorney General Dana Nessel announced Thursday that her office has filed a lawsuit seeking to shut down Enbridge’s Line 5 oil pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac.

Dana Nessel | Susan J. Demas

Nessel, who made decommissioning the oil pipeline a central promise of her 2018 campaign, asked the Ingham County Circuit Court to agree that it poses an “unacceptable risk” to the Great Lakes. The attorney general cited the threat of a rupture spurred by anchor strikes, saying that shutting down the pipeline is an environmental and public safety issue.

Nessel also filed a separate motion in the state Court of Claims, asking the court to dismiss Enbridge’s lawsuit against the state that seeks to protect their work on the project.

“The debate over Line 5 has been raging for over five years,” Nessel said in a statement. “Real-world events have shown me we can’t wait another five to 10 years for Enbridge to build a tunnel. … We cannot prevent accidental or emergency anchor deployments in one of the busiest shipping channels in the Great Lakes, and it only takes one such incident to cause an environmental and economic catastrophe. That is a risk no one should be willing to take.”

Whitmer looks beyond Line 5 with new task force as Enbridge files suit

The 66-year-old tar sands oil pipeline carries roughly 23 million gallons of oil through the Straits of Mackinac each day. It’s served as a focal point for the energies of Michigan environmentalists who say it poses a substantial risk to the Great Lakes and should be shut down.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office announced that she also filed a response in the Court of Claims Thursday, asking the court to dismiss Enbridge’s lawsuit. And she ordered the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to evaluate whether Enbridge has been in compliance with the 1953 state agreement that allows Line 5 to operate.

In June, Enbridge sued the state of Michigan in an attempt to protect its development of a planned new oil pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac after negotiations with Whitmer’s office failed.

Whitmer wins Michigan Chamber kudos for Line 5 talks

Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said in a statement that “possible violations of the easement are just one of several grounds by which the state could seek to shut down the pipelines, some of which the attorney general has already invoked today.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer talks about a public safety campaign on water safety, July 26, 2019 | Nick Manes

Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy said in a statement Thursday that the company still needs time to “fully evaluate” the legal filing.

“We are disappointed the state chose not to accept our offer to advance talks on the Straits tunnel, a project that would make a safe pipeline even safer,” Duffy said. “The state also ignored our offer to suspend litigation and jointly appoint an independent, Michigan-based moderator to help facilitate the discussions. We also committed to making additional safety enhancements to the current line.

“We remain open to discussions with the Governor, and we hope we can reach an agreement outside of court. Enbridge is deeply committed to being part of Michigan’s future,” Duffy continued. “We believe the Straits tunnel is the best way to protect the community and the Great Lakes while safely meeting Michigan’s energy needs.”

Nessel told the Michigan Advance in an interview at the Mackinac Policy Conference that decommissioning Line 5 was one of the primary issues that motivated her to run for office in the first place.

Whitmer wins Michigan Chamber kudos for Line 5 talks

The Democratic attorney general earlier this year issued a legal opinion saying the 2018 Lame Duck law that created the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority (MSCA), which formerly supervised the project, is unconstitutional. The MSCA, whose members had the authority to oversee Enbridge’s Mackinac Straits tunnel project, then disbanded.

The MSCA’s members were appointed by GOP former Gov. Rick Snyder. The group’s existence effectively excluded Whitmer from involvement in Enbridge’s plan to bury a new oil pipeline in a utility tunnel 100 feet beneath the Great Lakes.

In addition to transporting crude oil, Enbridge’s Line 5 also supplies natural gas liquids to northern Michigan residents.

Whitmer signed an executive order in June creating a new “UP Energy Task Force” to look into other means of supplying Upper Peninsula residents with propane.

Whitmer looks beyond Line 5 with new task force as Enbridge files suit

Top Republican leaders in the state Senate sent a letter to the governor Thursday, urging her to continue working on a deal with Enbridge that doesn’t lead to shutting down Line 5 before the company can replace it with a new pipeline.*

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and Sen. Ed McBroom talk to reporters after rejecting Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's executive order, Feb. 14, 2019
Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and Sen. Ed McBroom, Feb. 14, 2019 | Nick Manes

Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake), Sen. Wayne Schmidt (R-Traverse City) and Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) wrote that Michigan “consumes more propane for residential purposes than any other state in the union. They claim that decommissioning the pipeline would require “an additional 30,000 truckloads and 9,600 rail cars annually.”

Refineries in Detroit and Toledo also would see higher costs, and stopping the separate tunnel plan in addition to shutting down Line 5 would place more than 25,000 “mostly union” jobs at risk, the letter said.

Shirkey, Schmidt and McBroom also slammed Nessel in a joint statement.

“The attorney general is slowing progress on a tunnel — not a penny of which will be paid for by taxpayers — that will ensure the continued safety of a vital energy conduit. If she has her way, Michiganders will pay significantly more for gas at the pump and for propane to heat their homes. And she will put at risk thousands of jobs that are directly related to the line, and thousands more that would be created by the tunnel project. Her actions today are ill-advised and dangerous.”

Enbridge's Line 5.
Line 5 | National Wildlife Federation

But environmental groups in Michigan praised the attorney general’s action in a press conference with reporters on Thursday.

“This is great news today that our state leaders are taking steps in the right direction to protect the Great Lakes,” said Sean McBrearty, coordinator for Oil and Water Don’t Mix, a coalition of environmental groups opposed to Line 5.

Jeff Irwin

“The damaged, 66-year-old Line 5 pipeline that pumps millions of gallons of Canadian oil under our Great Lakes each day has been allowed to operate for far too long,” Lisa Wozniak, executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, said in a statement.

State Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor), who called on Snyder and former Attorney General Bill Schuette to shut down Line 5 in 2015, also praised Thursday’s legal moves.

“Every day that we don’t act to remove this 66-year-old pipeline is another day that we put our state at the risk of an environmental disaster,” Irwin said in a statement.

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Michael Gerstein
Michael Gerstein

Michael Gerstein is a former Advance reporter covering the Governor's office, criminal justice and the environment.