In a partial victory for Michigan’s waters and the rule of law, a state government administrative law judge ruled on Monday that legal challenges to permits issued by the state for the Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline project in the Straits of Mackinac can move forward. Judge Daniel Pulter ruled that Enbridge failed to show that the installation of 73 anchors along the 67-year-old pipeline would not harm the Great Lakes.
The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, the City of Mackinac Island, and the Straits of Mackinac Alliance brought the legal challenge. In addition, FLOW has submitted several scientific and legal analyses to the State on its legal responsibility to assess and establish no serious risks to protect the Great Lakes for several years.
FLOW advised the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality back in 2016 that the applications filed by Enbridge to place anchor supports under Line 5 require a comprehensive evaluation of potential impacts and options to avoid those impacts. Line 5’s original design underestimated the currents in the Straits of Mackinac when the 1953 easement to occupy public bottomlands in the Straits was granted, with recent evidence showing the currents are stronger than previously assumed.
On Monday, Judge Pulter confirmed that such an evaluation is required, and Enbridge and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) are going to have to show the perilous lines pose no more than minimal potential harm to the Great Lakes.
They also must show there are no feasible and prudent alternatives to the dangerous lines. In fact, there is potential for devastating harm, and Enbridge, as well as its competitors, has plenty of excess capacity elsewhere in its massive system, including the extra design capacity in its new line across southern Michigan.
It’s disappointing the judge ruled he didn’t have jurisdiction over the claims that the 3 miles of spans with anchors already installed constitute a total change in design, and need new authorization under the laws that protect the Great Lakes. But the upside is Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, EGLE, and the Department of Natural Resources are now free to (and should) demand Enbridge obtain the authorization to occupy the waters of the Great Lakes for this new or total change in design, one that is even more risky than the original.
The lines are sitting smack in the force of the currents and risk being hooked by another anchor strike like the one that struck and gouged Line 5 on April 1, 2018. This is a catastrophe waiting to happen. It’s time for the governor to bring this risky pipeline and Enbridge under the rule of law that protects our water, citizens, towns, and businesses that are in harm’s way.