Nessel applauds Wisconsin Line 5 ruling, says Michigan’s fight to close the pipeline will continue

By: - June 21, 2023 12:47 pm

Protest against Line 5 in Lansing | Laina G. Stebbins

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is hailing a judge’s ruling last week against Line 5 in Wisconsin and says it will further her efforts to shut down the controversial pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac.

A federal judge in Wisconsin issued a ruling Friday that Canadian energy company Enbridge must shut down its Line 5 pipeline within three years and pay more than $5 million in profits to the Chippewa Indians Bad River Band.

Attorney General Dana Nessel on March 15, 2023. (Andrew Roth/Michigan Advance)

“I applaud the Wisconsin Court’s finding that Line 5 is an impermissible trespass on the Bad River Reservation, as well as the Court’s decision to impose a deadline by which that trespass must be abated,” said Nessel in a statement Tuesday. “In particular, the Court recognized that recent erosion of the banks of the Bad River creates a threat to the integrity of the pipeline. As I noted in a recent amicus brief in that case, a release of oil from the pipeline at that location would cause grave harm to Lake Superior. For these reasons, this decision is a victory for all who share my concern about protecting the Great Lakes and all that they mean to our way of life in Michigan.” 

In his ruling, Judge William Conley reaffirmed his September 2022 decision upholding the tribe’s claim that Enbridge has been trespassing on its land since June 2013, when an agreement expired that gave the energy company an easement for 12 miles of pipeline that passes through tribal land.

The 60-foot-wide Line 5 runs from far northwest Wisconsin 645 miles into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, under the Straits of Mackinac and out into Canada near Detroit. It transports about 23 million gallons of crude oil and natural gas liquids daily.

The pipeline is currently underground where it passes near a bend in the Bad River on the tribe’s reservation.

Nessel, who filed an amicus brief in support of the tribe’s claim, said while the ruling is good news towards efforts to get the pipeline shut down, there is still much work that remains to be done. 

“I will continue to advance my lawsuit to stop a similar trespass on the bottomlands of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron in the Straits of Mackinac,” she said.

Nessel first filed suit against the company in state court in June 2019 to decommission the pipeline, although Enbridge won a major decision in August of 2022, when a judge ruled that the case would be decided in federal court. Nessel then filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit to decide the venue. That decision is still forthcoming.

Meanwhile, Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy told the Michigan Advance that while it is pleased Conley rejected many of the Band’s positions, it still plans to appeal last week’s ruling.

“Enbridge agrees with the Court’s decision to reject the Band’s argument that Line 5 must immediately shut down; however, the company disagrees with several aspects of the Court’s orders, including that Enbridge is in trespass, and that Line 5 must cease operations on the Bad River Reservation within three years,” said Duffy. “Enbridge’s position has long been that in a 1992 contract between Enbridge and the Band, the Band consented to operations of Line 5 on the Reservation through 2043. Enbridge plans to appeal the Court’s decision. Enbridge is weighing all its options, including requesting a stay of the judge’s decision while an appeal is heard.”

Duffy noted that the company filed federal and state permit applications in 2020 for the relocation of Line 5 around the Bad River Reservation, which it believes is the long-term solution to the dispute. 

“While the three-year timeline is arbitrary, it is achievable, provided government permitting agencies follow reasonable and timely processes,” he said. “We urge prompt government action so this project can be completed within the next three years. The 41-mile relocation project will take less than one year to construct once those permits are issued.”

Federal judge orders Enbridge to shut down Line 5 in three years, pay tribe $5 million

Duffy said Line 5 is operating safely and reliably, calling it “critical infrastructure which transports affordable and essential energy” used by millions of U.S. and Canadian customers across the upper Midwest and Great Lakes region. 

“Shutting down Line 5 prior to completion of the proposed relocation project would threaten North American energy security, disrupt local and regional economies, and violate the Transit Pipeline Treaty,” he said.

However, Nessel called Line 5 a “ticking time bomb” for the Great Lakes, noting it was struck by anchors or similar objects in 2018 and again in 2020. 

“There remains a very real concern that the next strike could be the fatal blow that causes a major oil release, similar to the 2010 release from Enbridge’s Line 6B into the Kalamazoo River and Talmadge Creek,” she said. “A release in the Straits of Mackinac would be catastrophic due to the depth at which the pipeline is located, which would make it particularly difficult to contain and clean up. For these reasons, I will continue to take action to protect the Great Lakes from the threat posed by Line 5.”


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Jon King
Jon King

Jon King is the Senior Reporter for the Michigan Advance and has been a journalist for more than 35 years. He is the Past President of the Michigan Associated Press Media Editors Association and has been recognized for excellence numerous times, most recently in 2022 with the Best Investigative Story by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters. He is also an adjunct faculty member at Cleary University. Jon and his family live in Howell.