Enbridge files federal challenge to Whitmer’s Line 5 shutdown order

Oil company says Mich. has no authority over pipeline safety

By: - November 24, 2020 5:42 pm

Susan J. Demas

Canadian oil company Enbridge has filed a federal complaint to prevent the state of Michigan from shutting down the Line 5 dual pipeline, according to a news release from the company Tuesday evening.

The filing in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan seeks an injunction to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s actions earlier this month to halt the pipeline by May, citing “unlawful” interference by the state in the pipeline’s safety regulation. 

“In the face of continued roadblocks by this Administration it’s time for the State to stop playing politics with the energy needs and anxieties of U.S. and Canadian consumers and businesses that depend on Line 5,” said Vern Yu, executive vice president and president, Liquids Pipelines.

“It is concerning to see the current Administration is willing to compromise these needs. We remain highly committed to protecting the Great Lakes, the environment, and all the people who use these waters while delivering energy that people rely on daily.”

Whitmer announced on Nov. 13 that Enbridge’s 67-year-old agreement with the state of Michigan was being revoked, based on a report from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) detailing multiple easement violations by Enbridge over the years.

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With no easement in place allowing the dual pipelines to continue operating under the Straits of Mackinac, Whitmer ordered operation of Line 5 to be halted by May.

Enbridge on Tuesday characterized that action as “illegal” and in violation of both federal law and the U.S. Constitution.

“A federal agency, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), is Enbridge’s safety regulator, not the State of Michigan,” the company’s statement reads. “…The State’s attempt to assume the role of safety regulator through its notice purporting to ‘terminate and revoke’ the easement is improper and unlawful.”

Enbridge also moved the Nov. 13 complaint filed by the state against Line 5 from a state court to the federal court.

Whitmer spokesperson Tiffany Brown said in a statement Tuesday that the new federal lawsuit from Enbridge “brazenly defies the people of Michigan and their right to protect the Great Lakes from a catastrophic oil spill.

“In short, Enbridge claims it can continue to pump oil through the Straits of Mackinac indefinitely, posing enormous risk to our economy and way of life — and that the people of Michigan have no say in the matter,” Brown continued. “The company that spilled nearly one million gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River and made Michigan the home of the largest on-land oil spill in American history has again demonstrated it cares only about its bottom line.”

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Ryan Jarvi, spokesperson for Attorney General Dana Nessel, told the Advance: “We’ve not had an opportunity to review the filings yet. Once we do, we will discuss it with our clients and determine the appropriate next steps.”

The anti-Line 5 Oil & Water Don’t Mix coalition described Tuesday’s filing by Enbridge as a “transparent Hail Mary pass” doomed to fail.

“For 67 years Enbridge never questioned the state’s authority to enforce the easement agreement and only now when they’ve been held accountable do they challenge the state’s actions protecting the Great Lakes,” said the group’s campaign coordinator Sean McBrearty.

“The state’s authority over Great Lakes bottomlands is unquestioned. We urge Gov. Whitmer and Attorney General Nessel to vigorously challenge this attempt by Enbridge to avoid accountability for their repeated failures to exercise care in operating Line 5,” he added.

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins is a former Michigan Advance reporter. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service.