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NWF: Enbridge settlement over Mich. spill insufficient

Jim Lynch, and Melissa Nann Burke

The U.S. government’s $177 million settlement proposal with Enbridge Energy over the 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill is “generous” toward the company and “insufficient” to deter future environmental disasters, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

The wildlife federation submitted its review on the deal this week in accordance with public comment guidelines established for the proposed consent decree. In announcing the deal in July, U.S. Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden described it as making “the delivery of our nation’s resources safer and more environmentally responsible.”

Officials with wildlife federation beg to differ.

“The proposed settlement is insufficient and needs to be renegotiated,” stated Mike Shriberg, regional executive director of the wildlife federation’s Great Lakes Regional Center, in a press release accompanying the organization’s comments submitted Wednesday to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Federal officials announced the deal six years after an underground crude oil pipeline near Marshall ruptured.

The settlement calls for:

■Approximately $110 million in injunctive relief — steps taken to offset damage done by the spill and prevent further disasters.

■$61 million in penalties for the Marshall spill.

■$1 million in penalties for another, smaller spill in Romeoville, Illinois.

■$5.4 million for costs the government incurred during cleanup of the Marshall spill.

Despite needing more than 18 hours to shut down the line, the Alberta-based company was not required to admit negligence as part of the consent agreement.

More than 800,000 gallons of oil were released in the Talmadge Creek area, with oil affecting nearly 40 miles of the Kalamazoo River.

The federation is calling on the Justice Department to increase the Marshall penalty from $61 million to $87 million.

“Considering that Enbridge reported a $937 million profit for the first quarter of 2016, a $61 million fine and assurances that Enbridge will do basic inspections and maintenance could be merely considered a cost of doing business rather than a true deterrent that will prevent negligent oil disasters that devastate our communities, contaminate our drinking water and threaten America’s fish and wildlife,” Shriberg said.

Wednesday, Enbridge officials challenged NWF’s assessment of the deal, stressing the millions that have already been spent on clean-up and restoration work.

“Enbridge has spent $1.2 billion in remediation costs,” wrote Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy, in an email response to questions. “We have replaced Line 6B and we’ve agreed to replace Line 3. Our company committed to paying these costs well in advance of any decree.”

A Justice Department spokesperson could not be reached for comment.

Other Enbridge pipelines are garnering attention this week, particularly the company’s Line 5 — a pair of lines that run beneath the Straits of Mackinac. U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, is taking issue with the hands-off approach of the new director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Heidi Grether.

Earlier this month, Grether, a controversial appointee for the position due to her 20-year career in the oil industry, said calls from conservationists to shut down the controversial pipelines were premature.

“If I stand in their shoes, which is something I try to do regularly, they believe they have enough information to pursue their position,” Grether said. “I don’t agree. I think there is more to come.”

In a letter to Grether this week, Miller challenged the new director’s stance.

“It is shortsighted to imply that the state of Michigan plays no role in considering whether or not a pipeline should be shut down,” Miller wrote Tuesday. “As the head of one of the most important agencies in our state, I believe you can lead by example and spearhead the discussion among all of the relevant stakeholders — those at the federal, state, local and international level.”

“To state that it is premature to discuss shutting down Line 5 takes one punitive measure off the table and limits the amount of leverage that would compel Enbridge to ensure proper maintenance of its pipelines,” Miller wrote.

DEQ spokesman Michael Shore said the department received Miller’s letter and is awaiting the results of two studies underway that will help determine the department’s approach.

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