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NWF lawsuit targets Mackinac Straits pipeline

The Mackinac Bridge
Mark Brush
Michigan Radio

The National Wildlife Federation says it’s making plans to sue the federal government.

The environmental group says the U.S. Department of Transportation is not enforcing a law that requires “worst-case” disaster plans for underwater pipelines to be on file.

The National Wildlife Federation’s Mike Shriberg says the government must enforce the rule or shut down oil and gas pipelines like the one operated by Enbridge Energy beneath the Straits of Mackinac.

“Right now, the pipeline operators do not have an official plan to deal with a worst-case scenario, which leaves our iconic waterways and our economies at risk,” he said in a conference call with reporters.

Enbridge is not a target of the lawsuit, but its 62-year-old Line 5 light oil and gas pipe that runs beneath the straits is. Shriberg said NWF attorneys discovered the issue while researching its options regarding the pipeline.

“We discovered a startling fact,” he said. “The agency responsible for overseeing pipelines in this country has neglected for more than 20 years to do its job as mandated by law.”

NWF says the law was passed following the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill. 

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration did not reply to a request for a comment on the notice of intent to file a lawsuit. But Enbridge says it files disaster plans with the government.

Enbridge’s Jason Manshum said this in an e-mailed statement:

“Regarding our commitment to safely and reliably operate all of our pipelines, Enbridge has detailed emergency response plans in place. They are required by regulation, and are submitted to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). Enbridge has plans for each operating region, as well as a specific plan for the Straits. In addition, we routinely conduct drills with state and federal agencies to ensure plans are current and effective. We take safety seriously.”

A state task force recently looked into the safety of the pipeline. The group says it needs more information, but task force co-chair Attorney General Bill Schuette said the pipeline would not be allowed if it were proposed today.

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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