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Governor Whitmer drops federal lawsuit, shifts fight against Enbridge Line 5 pipeline back to state court

work being done under Mackinac bridge

Governor Gretchen Whitmer has dropped a federal lawsuit seeking to shut down Enbridge’s Line 5 oil and natural gas liquids pipeline.

But that’s not the end of the legal effort to shut down the line that runs through the Straits of Mackinac — it’s part of a strategy to keep other litigation around the Line 5 pipeline in state court.

Lynsey Mukomel is the press secretary for Attorney General Dana Nessel, who filed the motion today.

“Attorney General Nessel fully supports the governor in her decision to dismiss the federal court case and instead focus on our ongoing litigation in state court,” Mukomel said.

She says returning the legal fight to a state court would be the fastest and most viable path to resolve the litigation.

In June of 2019, Nessel filed suit against Enbridge seeking the permanent decommissioning of Line 5. The 68-year-old pipeline carries crude oil and natural gas liquids through the Straits of Mackinac.

“The governor and I continue to be aligned in our commitment to protect the Great Lakes,” Nessel said in a statement. “This dismissal today will help us advance that goal.”

Attorneys general from neighboring states backed Nessel’s stance in the 2019 filing, while environmental groups and tribal nations in Michigan and Wisconsin have also voiced support.

“In essence, this case is about state law,” said Liz Kirkwood, executive director of FLOW, an environmental nonprofit. “It’s about the proprietary and sovereign interest of the state to protect its public waters and lands from a catastrophic oil spill.”

Nessel’s lawsuit in state court will be heard by Ingham County Circuit Judge James Jamo, who ordered the temporary shutdown of Line 5 last year. When Gov. Whitmer’s litigation entered federal court, Jamo put the case on hold. Whitmer said her dismissal is an effort to keep Nessel’s case moving in Ingham County.

Despite Tuesday’s notice of dismissal, Enbridge plans to move forward with its federal countersuit filed just over a year ago.

“Enbridge will continue to pursue its case in federal court to affirm federal jurisdiction over Line 5,” said Enbridge spokesperson Ryan Duffy in an emailed statement.

“We will continue to pursue the Great Lakes Tunnel to house a replacement section of Line 5, so that it can continue to serve the region safely.”

Michigan’s twelve tribal nations wrote a letter to President Biden last month, referring to an even earlier treaty. The 1836 Treaty of Washington reserves tribal members’ rights to hunt and fish in ceded territory—rights that tribal leaders say are threatened by Line 5.

Editor's note: Enbridge is one of Michigan Radio's corporate sponsors.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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