Enbridge Defies Ancient Public Trust Rule of Law, Undermines Great Lakes and Citizens’ Protected Rights

Jim Olson is FLOW’s Founder, President, and Legal Advisor

By Jim Olson

Enbridge has launched yet another attack on the rule of law in Michigan, a habit that underscores its arrogance and looks more like the disregard for rule of law exhibited by the mob that attacked the constitution, the Capitol, and rule of law of the Nation on January 6. It’s not surprising that Enbridge, a foreign corporation operating in the United States for its own advantage, has a history of disdain for the rule of law. (Enbridge said on January 12 that it won’t comply with Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Line 5 easement revocation, and plans to continue operating the pipelines.)

Look at the slippery manipulation of rules by the same corporation that caused the Line 6b disaster along the Kalamazoo River in 2010. Look at Enbridge’s repeated resistance to turning over information to the Attorney General of Michigan from 2014 until today. The corporation sat on information it had about the strong currents scouring under the existing dual pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac and the addition of band-aid support structures over the past 15 years. The corporation dragged its feet on reporting the first anchor strike in 2018, and claimed it would never happen — and then it became public knowledge that it happened again when early last summer Ingham County Circuit Court Judge James Jamo ordered Enbridge to turn over information and reports that confirmed that fact that two more dangerous anchor strikes and a cable dragged along the Line 5 pipelines.

No responsible official would wait for the next strike or next band-aid to prop up a sagging pipeline. Under the state’s solemn duty to protect the Great Lakes and its citizens before serious harm occurs, Governor Whitmer and DNR Director Dan Eichinger, after a thorough 15-month review of information—including strong currents, failing pipelines from scouring and support structures that suspend the pipeline four feet into the water column, sitting in wait —had no choice but to issue the Notice of Revocation and Termination of the 1953 Easement for the existing pipelines. 

Similarly, Attorney General Nessel had no choice but to file a lawsuit in Ingham County Circuit Court to enforce the revocation and terminate Enbridge’s gamble that it can extract over $1 million a day at the risk of a major rupture or leak that according to experts would cause over $6 billion in damages and devastate the State’s economy for many years. Our southern Gulf states still have not recovered from the 2010 Deep Water Horizon blowout.

Under the U.S. Constitution and law of the U.S. Supreme Court and our own Supreme Court, Michigan took absolute title and sovereign control of the waters and bottomlands of the Great Lakes into a legally enforceable public trust on admission to statehood in 1837. Under public trust law, the state and its officials are trustees, just like trustees at a bank, and are charged with a solemn duty to prevent impairment, alienation, and subordination of this public trust, including attempts by private corporations to control it. This public trust protects the rights of citizens, communities, and property owners along the Great Lakes and our inland waters for fishing, boating, navigation, drinking water, sustenance, health, swimming, and other recreation. These rights and these public trust lands and waters are paramount to any private rights.

When Michigan took title in trust, all the United States government reserved for the nation was a navigational servitude —meaning, it could pass laws allowing shipping and improve related dock and port infrastructure under its police power to protect navigation. But the United States and Congress did not reserve the power to pass laws that erase, interfere with, or subordinate the State’s public trust duties and the rights of citizens as legal beneficiaries. If the federal government can’t interfere with the State’s paramount public trust, certainly no foreign corporation can do so.

Yet, Enbridge sent a 7-page letter this week to Governor Whitmer and our state officials falsely stating that the State has no legal authority over the existing pipeline, and that the corporation and its officials refuse to comply with the Notice of Revocation and, presumably, any state court order that would enforce the revocation and shutdown this dangerous line. Enbridge also claimed that its lame-duck agreement with the Snyder Administration in late 2018 gives it the right to locate a tunnel and new tunnel pipeline under the Straits in these public trust bottomlands and waters and the right to continue the existing line until it gets its tunnel.

As it turns out, the easements and 99-year lease for the tunnel deal haven’t been authorized under public trust law either. When the 2018 tunnel deal is examined closely, it reveals that Enbridge thumbed its nose at the rule of law and never obtained approval for these conveyances and use agreements under the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act and the law that authorizes utility easements on public trust bottomlands.

When will Enbridge stop flaunting the law and stop trying to use its big buck advertising, political, and legal muscle?  Since when did Enbridge become the trustee for Michigan’s Great Lakes? The public trust doctrine is perpetual, and  when a use like the Enbridge 1953 dual lines in the Straits is no longer compatible with the protection of the public trust and rights of citizens, the state can revoke the use. Enbridge’s attempt to remove the State’s necessary and prudent actions to protect the public trust in the waters and bottomlands of the Great Lakes that it holds for citizens doesn’t float because it’s full of holes.

If the U.S. Congress can’t pass laws that take over or interfere with the absolute public trust rights and title of the Great Lakes in the States, surely a foreign corporation cannot expect to, no matter how much money and power it uses to back up such defiance. And those of us who live in the Great Lakes Basin—40 million of us—won’t let this defiance destroy the rule of law of our State.  Thankfully, Governor Whitmer, Director Eichinger, and Attorney General Nessel know this, and rather than look the other way, have the courage to stop it under the rule of law.

One comment on “Enbridge Defies Ancient Public Trust Rule of Law, Undermines Great Lakes and Citizens’ Protected Rights

  1. Susan Lenfestey on

    Thank you for this Jim Olson, so clear and compelling. Will the new federal admin be able to swat down Enbridge once and for all? Granholm at Energy, Haaland at Interior and Buttigieg at Transportation is a pretty good line up!

    Reply

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