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Enbridge's latest legal maneuver to get Michigan's lawsuit to shutdown Line 5 out of Michigan court and into federal court

The Line 5 pumping station on the south side of the Mackinac Straits.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio
The Line 5 pumping station on the south side of the Mackinac Straits.

Enbridge Energy wants to take a case against it in a Michigan state court and consolidate it with a case in federal court.

In an ongoing legal tussle, the Canadian pipeline company has asked the Western District of Michigan’s U.S. District Court federal court to take over a case in filed by the Attorney General’s office in the Ingham County Circuit Court.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel called it an outrageous maneuver that flies in the face of federal law.

The lawsuit the Attorney General filed in state court was an effort to enforce Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s order to shut down Enbridge’s Line 5 petroleum pipeline which sits in Great Lakes waters. There’s concern the 68 year old pipeline might spill oil.

Nessel says her office is “fervently committed to (the) belief that the fate of Michigan’s greatest natural resources should be determined in a Michigan court."

In a statement, Enbridge said the consolidation in the same court will allow a single judge to rule on the closely related issues in the two cases.

Enbridge sees a legal advantage in moving the state lawsuit to the federal court. It views the federal court as a better venue to determine whether a state has the authority to shut down an international pipeline.

Line 5 transports oil and natural gas liquids from western Canada through Michigan, crossing through the Straits of Mackinac, connecting Lakes Michigan and Huron and then under the St. Clair River just south of Port Huron before entering Ontario.

As previously reported by Michigan Radio and Bridge Michigan, about 30% of Line 5’s light crude oil goes to refineries in Detroit and Toledo. And a small fraction of its natural gas liquids are used for propane, used as heat in a wide swath of the Upper Peninsula.

Canada’s federal government has invoked a 1977 Transit Pipeline Treaty to prevent Michigan from shutting down Line 5. A U.S. State Department official stated in an email in November, “We are currently studying various policy considerations and options in advance of formal negotiations under the 1977 Transit Pipelines Treaty.” The Biden administration has said it has no plans to shut down Line 5.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.