Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said Wednesday she will move in June to shut a Great Lakes oil pipeline if the governor cannot reach a resolution with operator Enbridge, saying the state is in “great peril” the longer the oil continues to flow under a sensitive waterway.
Nessel revealed her timeline in an interview with The Associated Press at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s policy conference, near where Line 5 runs under the Straits of Mackinac. Her comments came a month after she said she was hopeful that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, by June 1, would have a plan for decommissioning the 66-year-old pipes.
Nessel, a Democrat, said she has had “lengthy conservations” with Whitmer, also a Democrat, about the pipeline, and they “have always been aligned on this issue.” Whitmer has irked environmentalists by saying she is open to the construction of a tunnel beneath the lakebed to house a new segment of Line 5 in the channel where Lakes Huron and Michigan meet. The tunnel plan was backed by Whitmer’s Republican predecessor. Her administration is talking with Canada-based Enbridge after Nessel said the 2018 law authorizing the tunnel is unconstitutional.
Nessel said she has a number of legal avenues at her disposal to decommission the pipeline.
“When we file it, it’ll be available to the public and they’ll be able to have an opportunity to see all the legal arguments that we’ve made,” she said. “My team has been meeting on this since the first day that I took office. I want to obviously act quickly because I think every day that Line 5 continues to run is a day that our state is in great peril.”
Line 5 carries about 23 million gallons (87 million liters) of crude oil daily between Superior, Wisconsin, and Sarnia, Ontario. The underwater segment that traverses the Straits of Mackinac is divided into two side-by-side lines.
Environmental groups contend that the segment is a spill hazard and should be decommissioned. The company says it is in good shape and could operate indefinitely. The pipeline project is supported by labor organizations friendly to Whitmer because of the jobs it would create.
Nessel said she personally does not support building a tunnel but added: “I’m not the governor, and I’m not a policymaker, and I am not in the state Legislature. That’s not my decision to make. What is my job, though, is to defend the Michigan Constitution, which very plainly and very specifically calls for the defense of the sanctity of the Great Lakes and to protect our drinking water and to protect Michigan’s natural resources.”
Asked if a new tunnel deal would be legal, Nessel said she could not comment on “an agreement I haven’t seen.”
Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown reiterated that the governor is committed to a solution that protects the Great Lakes, removes the pipeline as soon as possible and ensures there is energy for Upper Peninsula residents.
Roughly 75 activists opposed to the pipeline and the proposed tunnel visited Mackinac Island on Wednesday, walking near the entrance of the iconic Grand Hotel that is hosting the annual conference attended by business, political and other leaders.
Nathan Wright, of Petoskey, said constructing a tunnel would be a “blueprint to disaster” and said he was hopeful that Whitmer “is going to make the right decision.” Rita Mitchell of Ann Arbor said it is “unbelievable” that state officials are considering “something that would be so permanent.”
GOP lawmakers and Enbridge have described the complex tunnel agreement as a win-win that would keep oil flowing along Line 5 but lead to the decommissioning of the straits-area segment and its replacement.