Ohio, Louisiana want to intervene in Line 5 federal lawsuit

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

The states of Ohio and Louisiana have asked to intervene in a federal court case over the future of Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline through Michigan's Straits of Mackinac. 

The states, led by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, filed a request Friday seeking amici status in Enbridge's case against the state government's revocation of its 1953 easement through the Straits of Mackinac. 

As early as July 2019, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine's office expressed concern about how a Line 5 closure would hurt refinery jobs, fuel costs and disrupt airline schedules that rely on timely deliveries of fuel that stems from the pipeline.

Ohio's two refineries near the Michigan border supply fuel to Ohio and southeast Michigan, including Detroit Metro Airport, DeWine said in the 2019 letter. 

Ohio could lose up to 1,000 refinery employees in Toledo if Line 5 were shut down, the motion said.

"The threat is not limited to Ohio or its refineries; it extends to workers, consumers and industries throughout Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and the surrounding region and could result in additional layoffs and other economic harm," the motion said.  

Line 5 owner Enbridge has argued the state can't shut down the dual pipeline because it falls under the jurisdiction of federal regulators, such as the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. The Canadian pipeline giant and the state of Michigan are expected to have their first meeting with a mediator in April.

Michigan has not supported Ohio and Louisiana's intervention in the case, according to the motion.

"To be sure, the states of Ohio and Louisiana are not urging the court to reopen a pipeline if it fails to adequately prevent environmental harm," the motion said. "But the court should be apprised of the economic impact that a shutdown of Line 5 would have on the public and on Michigan's neighbors to the south." 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's office has argued Michigan stands to lose more than most should the pipeline fail. About 1.3 million jobs generating $82 billion in wages across the United States are supported by the Great Lakes and threatened by the risk of an oil spill in the Straits, Whitmer's office has said.

The nearly 68-year-old pipeline transports up to 540,000 barrels of light crude oil and natural gas liquids a day. It's earned the censure of environmental groups for about a decade because of the forecasted catastrophic effects a leak from the aging pipeline would have on the Great Lakes. 

In 2018, outgoing Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed an agreement with the company for a $500 million tunnel construction project that Enbridge would finance and build to house a new segment of Line 5 through the Straits. 

But Whitmer and Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel had run on promises to close the line and pursued the line's closure in court. 

In November, Whitmer revoked the pipeline's easement and gave the company until May 13 to stop operations. She sued in state court seeking to uphold the revocation and Enbridge filed in federal court seeking a ruling that federal regulators outranked the state's oversight authority of the pipeline. 

The motion does not mention what effect the closure of the pipeline would have on Louisiana. Enbridge's website noted the company employs about 142 full-time and temporary employees and contractors in Louisiana. It pays about $15.2 million in property taxes in Louisiana, $3.6 million sales and use taxes, $7.9 million in franchise tax and $3.1 million in corporate income tax. 

The company pays $98.4 million in property taxes in Ohio and $580,000 in sales and use taxes, according to Enbridge. In Michigan, the company pays about $60.4 million in property taxes and $33,000 in sales and use taxes. 

The attempted closure of the pipeline has drawn criticism the Canadian government, which also stands to lose refinery jobs and energy options should the pipeline be shuttered.

The light crude on the pipeline originates in Alberta and Western Canada before its shipped through Superior, Wisconsin into the Upper Peninsula, down through the Straits of Mackinac and then east to Sarnia. It also carries natural gas liquids that serve as a propane source to the Upper Peninsula and lower Michigan after it is processed in Sarnia.

A cabinet member in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's administration said earlier this month that the continued operation of the pipeline is "non-negotiable."