6 Democratic lawmakers 'deeply disappointed' with Nessel's Line 5 lawsuit

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
An  April 24, 2018 photo shows damage to the east pipeline of Line 5 caused by an anchor strike.

Six House Democrats said Thursday they oppose a lawsuit filed by Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel that seeks a court-ordered shutdown of Enrbidge’s Line 5 oil pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac.

The lawsuit offers “no alternative” to a closure of the pipeline that provides oil and propane to Michigan and surrounding areas, according to the statement from Reps. Sara Cambensy of Marquette, Terry Sabo of Muskegon, John Chirkun of Roseville, Wendell Byrd of Detroit, Tenisha Yancey of Harper Woods and Brian Elder of D-Bay City.

The Legislature last year passed a law enabling the construction of a utility tunnel that would house the pipeline in the Straits in a bid to reduce the risk of a rupture.

“The attorney general’s lawsuit actually guarantees the status quo,” the six lawmakers said. “This lawsuit will create a lengthy, expensive legal battle that could take a decade or more to decide, all the while leaving an aging pipeline lying on the bed of the Straits of Mackinac, until all possible appeals are exhausted.”

Nessel’s team will continue with the lawsuit filed in June seeking a judge’s order to decommission the roughly 4-mile dual pipeline that rests on the lake bed of the Straits.

“We have an obligation and a responsibility to preserve and protect our Great Lakes basin and Line 5’s continued presence is a looming threat to all of us,” Nessel’s spokeswoman Kelly Rossman-McKinney said in a statement.

Nessel on June 27 filed two separate legal requests related to Line 5.

In the first filing, Nessel asked the Michigan Court of Claims to dismiss a pending legal action by Enbridge that sought a court ruling declaring the tunnel agreement with the state valid and enforceable.

In a second filing in Ingham County Circuit Court, Nessel asked a judge to order the shutdown and decommissioning of Line 5, arguing it was a public nuisance and violates the public trust and environmental laws.

Enbridge has maintained its pipeline is safe, but agreed to pay for the $500 million construction of a utility tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac to house a new pipeline and potentially other utility lines.

Nessel had promised on the campaign trail to shut down Line 5 and opined in March that the agreement the state reached with Enbridge was invalid because the December 2018 law that served as the basis for the agreement was unconstitutional.

The law, passed during the lame-duck session, was supported by 74 House lawmakers and opposed by 34. The six lawmakers who issued Thursday's statement supported the tunnel legislation in December.   

They argued in the statement that the state’s agreement with Enbridge was “an appropriate compromise” to get the 66-year-old pipeline out of the Straits and minimize the risk of a spill in the Great Lakes.

They expressed disappointment in Nessel’s legal action, which they said put at risk “a critical source of 540,00 barrels per day of propane and crude oil supply for Michigan and surrounding areas.”

“This law solved a problem, through a reasonable compromise, created jobs and actually shut down the existing Line 5,” said the lawmaker's statement, which was sent from Elder’s email address instead of through House minority communication channels.

House Democratic Leader Christine Greig opposed last year's tunnel-related legislation and said Thursday she hoped to reach a solution "together" that would meet the state's energy needs and protect Michigan waterways.

“Efforts to find consensus and common ground should continue, involving anyone and everyone committed to the best interests of our state," Greig said in a statement.

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had been negotiating with Enbridge through the spring, but the talks broke down in June shortly before Enbridge filed its legal action in the state Court of Claims. The company, which has said it could complete its project by 2024, said it could not meet the two-year Line 5 decommissioning deadline Whitmer sought.

“Governor Whitmer welcomes and has received outreach on all sides of this important matter,” spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said in response to the House Democrats’ statement. “She is committed to a solution that protects the Great Lakes, removes the pipelines from the Straits as soon as possible and provides for the Upper Peninsula’s energy needs.”

Clean Water Action backed Nessel, saying her lawsuit was "in accordance with her constitutional roles as public trustee of the Great Lakes" and that the law passed in December resulted from "shadowy deal-making" between Enbridge and Republican former Gov. Rick Snyder, whose administration "was responsible for the Flint water crisis."


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