Whitmer to Enbridge: Defy shutdown order at your own financial risk

By: - May 11, 2021 6:41 pm

Enbridge, St. Ignace | Susan J. Demas

Updated, 8:21 p.m., 5/11/21, with comment from Enbridge

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wrote in a letter Tuesday to Enbridge stating that if it ignores her order to shut down the dual Line 5 pipeline by the Wednesday deadline, the Canadian oil company’s presence in the Straits of Mackinac will be considered an “international trespass.”

In a letter to Vern Yu, Enbridge’s executive vice president for liquids pipelines, Whitmer also warned that any profits earned from Line 5 after the shutdown deadline will be seized by the state if Whitmer wins her lawsuit to back up the order.

“If the state prevails in the underlying litigation, Enbridge will face the prospect of having to disgorge to the state all profits it derives from its wrongful use of the easement lands following that date,” Whitmer said.

Enbridge spokesperson Ryan Duffy said in a statement Tuesday that a Line 5 shutdown would have “serious, broad ramifications and raises substantial federal and international questions relating to interstate and international commerce.”

“That is why the case is in federal court where the judge has ordered mediation,” Duffy said. “We are confident that one of these paths will produce a resolution.”*

The Democratic governor issued the revocation and termination of Enbridge’s 68-year-old easement with the state in November, accompanied by an order for the company to cease operations in the Straits by midnight Wednesday.

Enbridge has repeatedly made clear, both in court and in public statements, that it does not intend to comply with the deadline voluntarily. Lawsuits between the state and Enbridge regarding a potential shutdown are ongoing.

State panel orders Enbridge permit rehearing after Whitmer’s Line 5 shutdown order

Environmentalists praised Whitmer’s letter.

“Enbridge should not profit from an illegally operated oil pipeline. It’s that simple,” said Oil & Water Don’t Mix Campaign Coordinator Sean McBrearty.

“And there’s a simple solution for Enbridge in response to Gov. Whitmer’s warning that the state will seize Enbridge’s profits from Line 5 if they defy the law and keep putting the Great Lakes at risk from their dangerous, old and decaying pipeline. The Canadian oil company should simply do what every business is expected to do and follow Michigan law.”

The Michigan League of Conservation Voters (LCV), Great Lakes Business Network (GLBN) and National Wildlife Federation (NWF) also released statements in support of Whitmer’s letter.

“The National Wildlife Federation stands with Michigan’s Tribal communities and citizens as well as Governor Whitmer and the majority of the public who want to see Line 5 shutdown,” said Mike Shriberg, NWF’s Great Lakes regional executive director. “Enbridge is now operating illegally, adding to their long legacy of corporate irresponsibility. They had already lost their social license to operate in the Great Lakes — now they have also lost their legal right. It’s time for Line 5 to be shut down.”

GLBN member and Angell Farm LLC owner Ian Bund estimates that Enbridge likely earns $2 million per day, which could be captured by the state via fines if the state’s lawsuit succeeds.

“We have a foreign corporation that has misled the public and their investors on the risk that Line 5 poses to the Great Lakes and the Michigan economy,” Bund said. “Instead of taking the past six months to prepare for this transition, they have spent millions in advertising in Michigan trying to sell a different narrative. This is a pattern of behavior that can’t be overlooked.”

State panel orders Enbridge permit rehearing after Whitmer’s Line 5 shutdown order

On Monday, the Bay Mills Indian Community in the Upper Peninsula passed a resolution that formally banishes Enbridge’s pipelines from the Bay Mills reservation, treaty lands and waters, including the Straits of Mackinac.

“Enbridge’s continued harm to our treaty rights, our environment, our history, our citizens, and our culture, is a prime example of how banishment should be used,” said President Whitney Gravelle of the Bay Mills Executive Council. “Banishment is a permanent and final action that is used to protect all that we hold dear.”

The executive council also requested that any regulatory body with oversight authority enforce the banishment.

Some Republican lawmakers spoke out in favor of Line 5 during session Tuesday. 

In a floor speech, state Sen. Dan Lauwers (R-Brockway) compared the Colonial Pipeline to Line 5, arguing that the consequences of Colonial’s partial shutdown due to a cyber attack this week would be mirrored in Michigan with a Line 5 shutdown.

State panel orders Enbridge permit rehearing after Whitmer’s Line 5 shutdown order

Colonial Pipeline is the largest U.S. refined products pipeline operator and supplies most of the East Coast with its products.

“This week, our country is again being reminded of the damage that can be done. when a critical energy supply goes offline,” Lauwers said. “The cyber attack on a Colonial Pipeline is already causing fuel shortages in several states, and a spike in gas prices over the weekend. … But in Michigan, it’s not an outside bad actor targeting our energy supply. It’s our own governor.”

House Transportation Committee Chair Jack O’Malley (R-Lake Ann) also released remarks in support of Line 5 Tuesday, after holding a committee meeting that pro-Line 5 supporters were invited to speak at.

“We’ve heard a lot about science and data from the governor in the last year, but when it comes to Line 5 — as we heard today — there is a lot of science and data that the governor is choosing to ignore for the sake of her environmental base,” O’Malley said. “… Housing the pipeline in a tunnel is a forward-thinking and safe solution.”

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, Native issues and criminal justice for the Advance. 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. When Laina is not writing or spending time with her cats, she loves art and design, listening to music, playing piano, enjoying good food and being out in nature (especially Up North).

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