White House not looking at whether to shut down Line 5

Biden admin. reviewing Line 5 tunnel, undecided on current pipeline

By: - November 9, 2021 4:36 pm

Straits of Mackinac | Laina G Stebbins

White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre confirmed Monday that President Joe Biden’s administration is studying the impact of the proposed tunnel-enclosed replacement of the controversial Line 5 oil pipeline.

The White House is not, however, formally reviewing whether or not to assist Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in shutting down the current pipeline.

“We don’t have any updates on the current Line 5, aside from what [Jean-Pierre] said, which was that Canada made a decision to invoke the dispute resolution provisions of the 1977 Transit Pipelines Treaty,” a Biden administration official clarified in an email Tuesday.

“We expect that both the U.S. and Canada will engage constructively in those negotiations,” the official wrote. “No study or anything currently being undertaken about shutting down the current line.”

In a Monday press briefing, a reporter asked why the Biden administration is considering shutting down Line 5. Jean-Pierre said that any reporting indicating that a decision had been made is “inaccurate,” but confirmed that the impacts of a replacement pipeline are being studied.

“The current Line 5 pipeline is subject to litigation between Enbridge and the state of Michigan,” Jean-Pierre said, adding that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is preparing an environmental impact statement (EIS) on its tunnel-enclosed replacement.

“The EIS will help inform any additional action or position the U.S. will be taking on the replacement of Line 5,” she said.

All 12 federally recognized tribes in Michigan sent a letter last week asking Biden to take a stance on Line 5 as it exists now — a 78-year-old dual oil pipeline that tribes and environmentalists say is too much of a risk to continue operating under the Straits of Mackinac.

Biden himself has so far been silent on the issue of Line 5. It is not clear whether he is supportive of Whitmer’s attempts to shut it down, although the two are close allies.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been working on the EIS for several months as part of the permitting process for the tunnel project.

Jaime A. Pinkham, acting assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works and a citizen of the Nez Perce Tribe rooted in North-Central Idaho, announced the review in June with a promise to prioritize tribal input throughout.

As for the current pipeline, the Canadian government has invoked the 1977 Treaty with the United States numerous times in State of Michigan v Enbridge in an effort to pause court proceedings until treaty talks between the countries are complete.

Those efforts from Canada have so far been unsuccessful. A federal judge is currently deliberating whether litigation between the state and Enbridge should be heard in state or federal court.

Once decided, the subsequent court case will determine whether or not to uphold Whitmer’s Line 5 shutdown order that directed the company to cease operation of the pipeline by early May. The company is resisting that order and has not stopped operating Line 5.


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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.