Senator compares Enbridge suit aid to wrongful imprisonment law

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan Senate Republicans adopted a budget amendment Wednesday requiring the Department of Natural Resources to reimburse Enbridge's legal fees if the state loses its challenge to the Canadian company's easement for Line 5 through the Straits of Mackinac.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Jim Stamas, R-Midland, compared the policy to the state's Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act, which allows those who were wrongfully convicted of crimes to seek money from the state. Stamas said the state had paid "tens of millions of dollars to the inmates."

"This is very similar to what the state faces also with wrongful imprisonment," Stamas said.

Enbridge has a Mackinaw Station for Line 5, which transports up to 540,000 barrels a day of light crude oil and natural gas liquids in the Straits of Mackinac.

Sen. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, said the comparison of the pipeline company to those "wronged by the justice system" was "appalling."

"To compare that somehow to a Canadian company which is moving oil from Canada through Michigan, mostly to Canada, it is just really, really inappropriate,” Chang said.

The Senate voted 20-16, along party lines, to include the language in the department's budget for the upcoming fiscal year, demonstrating the contentious disagreement between GOP lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration over the future of the pipeline.

The amendment specifically says the money would come from funds appropriated for salaries within the DNR. It's likely that Whitmer, who has voiced concerns about the pipeline rupturing and polluting the Great Lakes, would block the language.

However, Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, described the state's legal strategy as "ridiculous" and said shutting down the pipeline would be a "debacle."

“That’s what we’re going to do?" McBroom asked his Democratic colleagues in a floor speech. "We’re not going to support this message to the administration that we cannot tolerate this kind of foolery?”

Michigan state Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, described the state's legal strategy of trying to shut down Line 5 as "ridiculous"

State departments freely advance litigation without consequence, McBroom said.

"Because, hey, it's just taxpayer dollars," he said. "No big deal."

Whitmer and the Department of Natural Resources revoked Enrbidge’s easement for Line 5 through the Straits of Mackinac in November for what the state said were repeated violations of the pipeline’s easement. At that time, Whitmer gave Enbridge six months, or until Wednesday, to close the line.

Whitmer and the department filed suit in Ingham County Circuit Court, requesting the state court to uphold Michigan’s authority to revoke the easement and close the line until completion of a tunnel to house a new segment in the Straits.

But Enbridge refuses to close its pipeline absent a court order. The company moved the state’s case to federal court — an action the state is still fighting to reverse — and filed a separate federal suit seeking a ruling that regulation of the pipeline is exclusive to federal regulators, not the state of Michigan.

The state and Enbridge are in mediation in relation to Enbridge’s suit.

Sen. Curtis Hertel, D-East Lansing, said the Senate Republicans' amendment could send state taxpayer dollars "to paying the defense costs of a Canadian oil company."