A lawsuit in Michigan seeking to shut down the Line 5 pipeline that carries oil and other products across four miles along the floor of the Straits of Mackinac will not be moved from federal to state court.
U.S. District Court Judge Janet Neff on Aug. 18 denied a request by the administration of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) to shift the lawsuit's venue.
“The court reinforces the importance of a federal forum in deciding the disputed and substantial federal issues at stake, with uniformity and consistency,” Neff wrote in her decision.
The judge also called the effort to remove the case to state court an "attempt to gain an unfair advantage through the improper use of judicial machinery."
This was the second time that Neff turned down a request to move a case seeking to halt the pipeline’s continued operation from federal to state court.
The judge's most recent ruling was applauded by Calgary-based Enbridge, Inc., operator of the 69-year-old pipeline that carries 540,000 barrels per day of crude oil and refined products from Superior, Wis., to Sarnia, Ontario.
“This properly keeps the Michigan Attorney General’s lawsuit in federal court,” said Enbridge spokesperson Ryan Duffy in an email to ENR on Aug. 22.
He said the judge’s decision “underscores that the state’s attempts to shut down this critical energy infrastructure raise important federal questions of interstate commerce, exclusive federal jurisdiction over pipeline safety and the serious ramifications for energy security and foreign affairs if the state and the U.S. government were to defy an international treaty with Canada that has been in place since 1977.”
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel (D) filed the lawsuit in question in 2019 in Ingham County Circuit Court. It was later moved to federal court in a ruling by Neff after Enbridge requested it to be moved there.
Neff also denied a previous request to move a different case filed by Whitmer in 2020 to state court. After that decision, Whitmer dismissed the 2020 case and threw her support behind the 2019 case.
Amber McCann, a spokesperson for Nessel, said officials are considering their options going forward.
“Attorney General Nessel remains steadfast in her commitment to protect Michigan’s natural resources from the potentially devastating impact of environmental disaster,” McCann wrote in an email to ENR. “The department strongly disagrees with the judge’s mistaken characterization of both the law and the attorney general’s approach to this and related cases. We are reviewing the decision and considering next steps to pursue in the litigation.”
The Line 5 saga has been going on for several years with Whitmer’s administration and environmental groups trying to shut down the pipeline because they allege it is unsafe and poses an environmental threat to the straits.
A long-term solution to addressing the safety of Line 5 was the purpose of a 2018 agreement between former Gov. Rick Snyder (R) and Enbridge to construct a $500-million tunnel beneath the straits to contain a new segment of Line 5. That project has not yet been started.