Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has abruptly dropped her federal court case aimed at closing the Line 5 pipeline across the border.
Instead, Attorney General Dana Nessel says Whitmer will focus the government’s efforts on the long-running state court action against pipeline owner Enbridge Inc., which was originally filed in 2019.
In a statement, Nessel says the original case remains the “fastest and most viable route” toward permanently deactivating Line 5.
Michigan’s efforts suffered a setback earlier this month when a US District Court judge sided with Enbridge and allowed Whitmer’s case to remain in federal court.
Last November, Whitmer canceled the 68-year-old easement that allowed Enbridge to operate the line for fear of an environmental catastrophe in the Strait of Mackinac, where Line 5 crosses the Great Lakes.
The National Wildlife Association applauded the decision to drop the court case, calling line 5 a “ticking time bomb” and backing Nessel’s motion to reopen the 2019 action.
“We have had enough of this Canadian corporation and the Government of Canada, who are tying Michigan’s efforts to save our Great Lakes from a catastrophic oil spill,” regional executive director Mike Shriberg said in a statement.
“Line 5 is a ticking time bomb and this move to cut through Enbridge’s legal delay strategy is the best way forward to defend the Great Lakes.”
Nessel said he and Whitmer are “aligned in our commitment” to closing the pipeline, “and that today’s dismissal will help us advance that goal.”
“I fully support the governor’s decision to dismiss the federal court case and instead focus on our ongoing trial in state court,” Nessel said. “A state court case is the fastest and most viable route to permanently demotion Line 5.
Canada said earlier this month that plans for bilateral treaty talks between Canada and the United States over a dispute over the pipeline were “well underway”, although a timeline for formal talks is unclear.
The treaty is a 1977 agreement between the two countries intended to avoid disrupting the cross-border flow of energy, and proved to be a key element in Enbridge’s strategy to convince the US District Court that a bilateral dispute was in federal court. .
If formal negotiations fail, the next stage of the dispute resolution process will be binding to international arbitration.
Canada opted to formally implement the 44-year-old treaty last month after talks between the two sides by a court-appointed arbitrator broke down.
Enbridge welcomed Michigan’s decision to drop the federal court case, saying in a statement that the company would continue to press for confirmation of federal jurisdiction on Line 5.
The White House has acknowledged that the US Army Corps of Engineers is conducting an environmental assessment on Enbridge’s plans to enclose the underwater portion of the twin pipeline in a deep, fortified underground tunnel. But he has resisted pressure to join the controversy.
Line 5 carries up to 540,000 barrels per day of crude oil and natural gas liquids across the Canada–US border and the Great Lakes via a twin line running along the lake under the strait connecting Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.
Supporters call it an important and essential source of energy—particularly propane—for several Midwestern states, including Michigan and Ohio. They also say it is a major source of feedstock for important refineries on the northern side of the border, including the supply of jet fuel to some of Canada’s busiest airports.
Critics want the line closed, arguing that it is only a matter of time before an anchor strike or technical failure triggers a catastrophic environmental disaster in one of the region’s most important watersheds.
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