FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 28, 2019
Jim Olson, FLOW Founder and President Email:firstname.lastname@example.org
Cell: (231) 499-8831
Dave Dempsey, FLOW Senior Advisor Email:Dave@FLOWforWater.org
FLOW supports attorney general’s process and opinion, which is binding on state agencies and rejects the fatally flawed law and undermines side agreements on Enbridge oil pipelines, proposed tunnel in Mackinac Straits
In a major step toward restoring the rule of law, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel issued an opinion today declaring unconstitutional a hastily crafted law that sought to give away Great Lakes public trust bottomlands to Enbridge for 99 years for a private oil tunnel, while allowing the aged, dangerous existing “Line 5” oil pipelines in the Straits to continue operating for another decade as the tunnel is considered and possibly built.
The move comes in response to a formal request by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and is critical to unpacking the layers of problems with the law creating the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority that the lame-duck legislature rushed through in late 2018.
“We applaud Attorney General Nessel for clearly recognizing the legislative overreach, restoring the rule of law, and stopping the attack on the Great Lakes and the state constitution, which demands that the state’s air, water, and natural resources are treated and protected as ‘paramount,’” said Liz Kirkwood, an environmental attorney and Executive Director of FLOW (For Love of Water), a Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City.
The attorney general’s opinion on Public Act 359 is binding on state agencies and voids the tunnel agreement called for by the law, and also nullifies the legal effect of the side agreements reached between the state of Michigan under then-Gov. Rick Snyder and Line 5-owner Enbridge. Those agreements allowed continued oil pumping through the Straits, where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron, and an easement and 99-year lease of Great Lakes public bottomlands to Canadian-based Enbridge for private control of the tunnel for its own gain.
Public Act 359 and the related agreements for a tunnel and continued use of the existing, flawed Line 5 were not authorized under the standards of public trust law; the state and Enbridge flouted the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act (GLSLA) that requires transfers and agreements for occupancy of the soils of under the Great Lakes by trying to avoid and ignore this most basic law and public trust principles.
Public Act 359 and the side agreements are peppered with other serious problems, most of which are covered by the questions the Governor asked the Attorney General to answer, which include:
- Adding the tunnel and corridor authority to the 1952 law that created the Mackinac Bridge Authority goes far beyond the original public purpose to build a public bridge;
- Establishing a term for members of the board of the corridor authority that exceeds the 4-year limit under Article III of the Michigan Constitution;
- Violating provisions of the state constitution that prohibit fostering private or special purposes, the commingling of the government to aid primarily private projects, the appropriation of public property for private purposes, and the entanglement of the credit and taxpayers of the State for primarily private purposes.
“We hope this critical first step by the Attorney General will be followed by an immediate and full review of the Snyder administration’s and agencies’ deliberate evasion of the rule of law and mishandling of the grave and continuing risks of the existing Line 5, and the real and imminent threat to the Straits of Mackinac, towns and cities like Mackinac Island, tribal fishing interests, private property interests, businesses, and the rights of the public in the soils and waters of the Great Lakes,” said Olson.
FLOW recommends that Gov. Whitmer take immediate action to end the massive threat posed by the existing Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac in a swift and orderly fashion based on the rule of law under our state constitution, statutes, and the public trust doctrine in the Great Lakes, including by:
- Acknowledging that State of Michigan agencies are bound by the attorney general’s opinion.
- Sending a letter to Enbridge indicating that the company should decide for itself, if it wants to build a new oil tunnel, and apply, if it chooses under the Great Lakes to construct a tunnel under the rule of law. The rule of law requires a full consideration of the risk to the paramount public rights in the soils and waters of the Great Lakes, and a showing that the company has no prudent and feasible alternatives to using the Great Lakes as a shortcut for western Canadian oil on its way to refineries in eastern Canada as well as overseas markets. If the company does not chose to do this, or cannot satisfy these mandatory requirements that protect the Great Lakes, then it should choose to use other parts of its several-thousand mile system.
- Starting the process to decommission the 66-year-old Line 5 pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac, which are operating without lawful authority, in violation of the public trust and GLSLA, and in violation of their 1953 easement granted by the state. If Enbridge chooses to continue operating the existing Line 5 in the future, it can apply under the GLSLA for new authority to continue using Line 5 if it can demonstrate little risk and no feasible and prudent alternative to the unacceptable existing Line 5, but the state is not obligated to agree.
“Public Act 359, coupled with the State’s public entanglement with Enbridge, has put private gain and economic interests above the State’s and public’s paramount trust interest in the waters and soils of the Great Lakes,” said Olson. “The unconstitutional law and entangled state and Enbridge agreements represent one of the largest, if not largest, threats in the state’s history to the state’s ownership and public trust duty to protect the public’s rights and uses from private takeover or harm to the Great Lakes.”