State wants to end mediation with Enbridge over future of Line 5
The state of Michigan wants to end mediation efforts with Enbridge Energy over the future of Line 5 and indicated as much to its mediator shortly after a meeting in Lansing last week that included Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Enbridge CEO Al Monaco.
News of the meeting and Michigan's unwillingness to continue with mediation over the pipeline through the Straits of Mackinac were contained in a series of court documents filed this week in federal court as the state seeks to block details of the mediation from surfacing.
Earlier this week, the state asked U.S. District Judge Janet Neff to block the filing of a mediation report by the state's current mediator, former U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen. The state argued Rosen's report would include confidential details of discussions so far and outline further mediation when it wasn't its intention to continue.
"Indeed at the conclusion of the September 9th session the state parties unambiguously communicated to the mediator that any further continuation of the mediation process would be unproductive for them, and they have no 'desire to continue with the mediation process,'" Attorney General Dana Nessel's office said in a Wednesday filing.
Enbridge on Wednesday said the state's concerns about Rosen's report were "unfounded" and that it was unlikely Rosen would disclose confidential details of the discussions.
Rosen, Enbridge said in a filing, told parties what his recommendations would be at the end of the Sept. 9 meeting and the recommendations were "short and neutral in tone." The company said Rosen planned to propose "two procedural recommendations for consideration by the court to advance the mediation's effectiveness."
"They are entirely forward looking, concerning only possible next steps that the court might consider to address certain unique elements of the case," Enbridge said in its filing. "The recommendations do not disclose the substance of the parties' discussion in the mediation or any negotiating position taken by any party."
In its filing, Enbridge noted the Sept. 9 meeting included Whitmer and Monaco and said that the dispute in general has prompted treaty discussions between the administrations of President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Rosen's plan, Enbridge said, is likely to include the "complexity and international implications" of the stalemate between Enbridge and the state of Michigan.
"Enbridge recognizes that a negotiated resolution may take time given the multidimensional and international nature of the dispute and will require creative thinking," Enbridge's filing said. "In the end, Enbridge remains committed to reaching a mutually acceptable resolution."
The two parties have not scheduled any further mediation meetings. They've met four times since April and had hoped to conclude mediation by the end of the month.
Environmental groups are growing impatient with the lack of action on Line 5, which was supposed to be shut down in May under an easement revocation Whitmer's administration issued in November.
In a statement Wednesday, the Michigan League of Conservation Voters criticized an "unprecedented foot dragging by federal court."
“Each day that goes by without a legal resolution is another day our Great Lakes are at risk of a catastrophic oil spill," said Lisa Wozniak, executive director for the league. "This case has floundered in federal court for too long."
The mediation seeks an agreement that ends an impasse between the Canadian oil giant and Whitmer over the future of the Line 5 oil pipeline.
In November, the state gave Line 5 owner Enbridge 180 days to arrange for a shutdown, a period that expired on May 12. Michigan filed a case in state court seeking to buoy its authority to order the shutdown.
Enbridge refused to close by that date and instead filed a competing suit against the state in federal court, asking the judge to rule only federal regulators had any say over the pipeline's closure.