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Michigan withdraws Line 5 challenge in federal US court

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MICHIGAN – The State of Michigan has dropped its case seeking to enforce Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s November 2020 revocation and termination of energy giant Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline running along the lakebed through the Straits of Mackinac.

“Enbridge is pleased by the State of Michigan’s decision to drop its case to enforce its November 2020 notice of revocation and termination related to Line 5,” said Enbridge media spokesperson Ryan Duffy, following the announcement. “Enbridge will continue to pursue its case in federal court to affirm federal jurisdiction over Line 5.”

Earlier this year, Canada invoked the 1977 Transit Pipeline Treaty, complicating Michigan’s plans to have the case heard in state court. US federal judge Janet Neff issued a jurisdictional order noting that “the federal issues in this case are under consideration at the highest levels of this country’s government.”

The 70-year-old pipeline supplies much of Michigan and surrounding states’ propane and is an integral part of both Ontario and Quebec’s energy supply.

Enbridge has vowed to keep operating the pipeline and was successful in having the case heard in federal court. “Enbridge will continue to deliver safe, reliable and affordable energy to Michigan and the region,” noted Mr. Duffy. “We will continue to pursue the Great Lakes Tunnel to house a replacement section of Line 5 so that it can continue to serve the region safely.”

The referenced tunnel would run more than 200 feet below the lakebed and encase the pipeline in a concrete-lined tunnel, which Enbridge alleges would shelter the pipeline from potential leaks caused by a pipeline rupture or anchor strike. The $500 million project will be a privately-financed project, with Enbridge asserting that no tax dollars would be accessed.

Both the current pipeline and the tunnel project are opposed by the 12 American Ojibwe and Odawa bands in the region, as well as Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory. The bands have their own challenge to the projects, citing treaty rights that guarantee hunting and fishing in the Manitoulin region.

Kagawong summer resident Jim Nies of Whitewater Wisconsin and a member of the Waterkeeper Alliance has been vocal in his opposition to Line 5.

“I think of myself as something of a bi-national person,” he told The Expositor, “having lived and worked in Canada and having owned property on Manitoulin for decades and spending nearly half my time there since retirement. From either the US or Canadian viewpoint, Line 5 is a disaster.”

“I think most Americans think of Canada as the land of a pristine environment and advanced environmental awareness, continued Mr. Nies. “Line 5 is one glaring example of how mistaken that perception is. Line 5 transports heavy tar sands petroleum, one of the nastiest products imaginable. The place it comes from has been turned into a wasteland, and the atmosphere it eventually ends up in is already experiencing runaway overheating.”

Mr. Nies points out that crude is transported (23 million gallons a day) beneath the Straits of Mackinac, one of the most sensitive environmental locations in North America. Studies have projected that a major spill would heavily impact Western Manitoulin and the North Shore.

Mr. Nies said that Enbridge “spends millions on public relations trying to promote itself as a responsible business, deeply concerned about safety and public welfare, whereas it has a history of incompetence and lack of concern. Hundreds of spills across all of its pipelines, including the 1.2 million gallon spill in the Kalamazoo River (Michigan) which gushed unstopped for 17 hours.”

“From the American viewpoint, Line 5 looks like aggression from a hostile power,” said Mr. Nies. “The line is really a shortcut from Canada to Canada, (bringing petroleum products from Western Canada east) under the Straits of Mackinac and then right across Michigan, eventually to the Sarnia refineries in Ontario. The pipeline carries a lethal substance in order to produce profit for a very few corporate executives and stockholders, asserted Mr. Nies. “The line is opposed by all the tribes in Michigan and Wisconsin and by a majority of American voters. It is operating in violation of many tribal treaties. Michigan’s governor, Gretchen Whitmer, has revoked its permit and told Enbridge to shut the line down, so it is also violating American law.”

“To counter the opposition coming from this side of the border, Enbridge has enlisted the aid of the Canadian government, inaccurately citing a 1977 treaty,” said Mr. Nies. “(Former) Foreign Minister Marc Garneau made it clear that the Trudeau government backs Enbridge—the environment and the people be dammed.”

“From my American viewpoint, this is hostile,” he said, adding, “from my Canadian viewpoint this is disappointing. From both viewpoints it tarnishes Canada’s reputation.”

Mr. Nies suggests Islanders should learn more about the two organizations he supports that are working to protect the environment in general and the waters of Lakes Michigan and Huron in particular—FLOW and Oil and Water Don’t Mix. “I hope the residents of Manitoulin and Ontario will too. I would also recommend questioning any pro-environment verbiage coming out of the Trudeau administration.”

It is anticipated that Enbridge will now move to have Michigan’s second front in state court also moved into a federal venue. Meanwhile, the US Army Corps of Engineers is conducting an in-depth environmental assessment of the impact of the proposed Enbridge tunnel.