Defying Today’s State Deadline to Shut Down Line 5, Enbridge Is Risking the Great Lakes and Privatizing the Public Trust

The following is a media release issued by FLOW on May 12, 2021.

In refusing to shut down Line 5 by the state-ordered deadline today, Enbridge is flatly rejecting the authority of the State of Michigan to regulate and safeguard its own public trust waters and bottomlands —the very same state authority that Enbridge has recognized and relied upon since 1953 for conditional permission to occupy the Straits of Mackinac in the first place. 

Enbridge’s brazen disregard for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s lawful order and the Great Lakes is outrageous and indicative of the Canadian company’s troubling track record. In acting last November, the governor fulfilled her duty under public trust law and article 4, section 52 of the state constitution to uphold the “paramount public concern” for protecting Michigan’s air, water, and other natural resources from “pollution, impairment and destruction.” That’s when she gave Enbridge six months to plan for alternatives and stop the oil flowing through the battered and propped up pipelines at the bottom of the Great Lakes. Line 5 is a clear-and-present danger in the Straits, a location local tribes hold as a “sacred wellspring of Anishinaabe life and culture.

“In refusing to shut down Line 5, Enbridge’s flagrant disregard for the law exposes a deep-rooted and reckless corporate culture of exceptionalism. Michiganders have not forgotten Enbridge’s epic failure and legacy of the million-gallon, Line 6B oil spill disaster into the Kalamazoo River that drove about 150 families permanently from their homes and properties.” said Liz Kirkwood, executive director of FLOW (For Love of Water), the Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City, Michigan. “The scale and impact of a Line 5 oil spill would be an unprecedented ecological and economic disaster in the Great Lakes, threatening some 20 percent of the planet’s fresh surface water. Enbridge is courting disaster with the drinking water supply for Mackinac Island, St. Ignace, and dozens of other communities that draw from the Great Lakes.”

“Given the evidence, we firmly support the Governor’s position that Line 5 violates the public trust and poses an unacceptable grave risk to the future of Michigan’s economy and environment.” said Kirkwood, an environmental attorney.

The State of Michigan says Line 5 is an “environmental ticking time bomb.” Built in 1953 to last 50 years, Line 5 has pumped oil for nearly 70 years through the open waters of the Straits of Mackinac. The steel pipes risk failure from periodic anchor strikes and bending in the fierce currents. 

Enbridge’s repeated and ongoing legal violations on Line 5 are both pervasive and well documented. They include at least three known anchor strikes against the underwater pipelines, a vulnerable engineering design not designed to withstand the powerful lakebed currents, a lack of adequate insurance to hold the state and its people harmless, 33 documented known Line 5 oil spills in Michigan alone, and much more. After extensive legal review of Enbridge’s incurable violations in public trust waters, the Governor and the Department of Natural Resources took decisive legal action to defend the Great Lakes from a catastrophic oil spill under the state’s sovereign public trust law. 

Line 5 also threatens our climate and water security in an increasingly hot and thirsty world. The greenhouse gas emissions from Line 5’s oil and natural gas liquids, at more than 57 million metric tons a year, are greater than the annual yield from the combined operation of the nation’s three largest coal plants. Line 5 is a recipe for ruin.

“Enbridge’s refusal to respect the State’s order is an arrogant attempt to control and take over the paramount rights of the citizens and sovereignty of the State and Tribes of Michigan in the Great Lakes,” said Jim Olson, FLOW’s Founder and Senior Legal Advisor. “In effect a private, foreign corporation wants to control us, our democracy, and ignore the rule of law.  It is simply unacceptable that Enbridge is trying to privatize the Great Lakes and the public trust.”

“Enbridge is not above the law of Michigan, the public trust law and rights of people in the Great Lakes, and the rights of our Native Americans,” Olson said. “Enbridge is not above the overarching duty that Michigan has to shut down Line 5 to prevent the most catastrophic damage to 20 percent of the world’s freshwater.”

For more information, see FLOW’s Line 5 fact sheets and blogs:

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