Enviros: DePerno is beholden to ‘dirty fossil fuels money’ for pledging to drop Line 5 suits

Republican says he’ll take action ‘within the first day or two after I’m sworn in’

By: - July 1, 2022 1:19 pm

Presumptive AG nominee Matthew DePerno at a GOP gubernatorial debate in Warren, June 30, 2022 | Laina G. Stebbins

Updated, 3:03 p.m., 7/1/22

Just as Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel has long predicted, her GOP challenger in November — who likely is Kalamazoo attorney Matthew DePerno — would immediately drop all litigation against Canadian pipeline company Enbridge if he wins the November election.

“Probably within the first day or two after I’m sworn in, we’ll dismiss Michigan’s involvement in that litigation,” DePerno told the Advance at Thursday’s GOP gubernatorial debate in Warren.

Nessel’s office did not return a request for comment.

There are currently two active lawsuits between the state of Michigan and Enbridge that are awaiting a decision in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan.

Attorney General Dana Nessel | Andrew Roth

One, Nessel v Enbridge et al, was filed in state court in 2019 and seeks to decommission Line 5 via public trust protections and other state laws. Judge Janet Neff will first need to determine whether it will play out in state court, which would benefit Nessel’s case; or federal court, which would benefit Enbridge’s case.

Enbridge v Whitmer et al is also teed up for a ruling by the same judge in federal court. It was filed in November 2020 as a response to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s own legal gambit to shut down the pipeline over safety concerns, which ultimately failed.

Enbridge’s suit seeks a court ruling establishing that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), not the state, has sole regulatory authority over Line 5 regulation. A ruling in Enbridge’s favor would incapacitate the state’s ability to shut down the pipeline.

Supporters of Enbridge, including the Canadian government, say there would be economic consequences for a Line 5 shutdown.

Opponents of the 69-year-old Canadian pipeline, which include all recognized tribes in Michigan, argue that the pipeline is too much of a risk at its old age to transport oil under the tumultuous waters where Lakes Michigan and Huron connect at the Mackinac Straits.

Nessel has told the Advance previously that she is concerned that Enbridge may be trying to “run out the clock” on her lawsuit until a Republican successor comes into office and drops it. If DePerno does win in November and does so, efforts to shut down Line 5 in a timely fashion would take a significant hit.

An Enbridge spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment.

Beth Wallace, Great Lakes freshwater campaigns manager for the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), said in response to DePerno’s remarks that “It is clear dirty fossil fuels money has infiltrated [Nessel’s] opponents.”

“Why else would they back a foreign oil corporation that continues to ignore legal agreements and regulations, risking our largest bodies of freshwater in the world?” Wallace continued. “They know Line 5 has alternatives that cause no price increases, but they are standing with big oil profits regardless of the facts. 

“We must fight for citizens rights and clean water over greedy oil companies, and Attorney General Nessel has been doing that since day one.”

Sean McBrearty, legislative and policy director for Clean Water Action, said DePerno’s remarks draw an even clearer line in the sand between him and Nessel.

“It’s unfortunate, but not surprising that somebody who bought into the ‘Big Lie’ about the 2020 election also believes the lies of the Canadian fossil fuel industry,” McBrearty said.

“Dana Nessel has been a champion for the people of Michigan and for protecting our Great Lakes. And DePerno has obviously told us now that we can’t expect the same from him,” he continued.

“So the choice before voters in November is very clear: We can continue protecting the Great Lakes, protecting Michigan consumers the way Attorney General Nessel has done, or we can buy the big lie that [former President] Donald Trump was spreading and the big lies spread by the oil industry and go with Matt DePerno, who may or may not still be able to practice law in Michigan by Election Day.”


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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.