Tag: Gretchen Whitmer

The Future of Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac





Now that Michigan’s governor and attorney general have sunk the oil tunnel scheme hatched by the last administration, I’m asked nearly every day: What can citizens and state leaders do to shut down the propped-up, banged-up Line 5 oil pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac for good?

Here’s my answer, as succinctly as I can distill it, accompanied by a summary of the law and political history in play.

So what should Governor Whitmer and Attorney General Nessel do?

Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel must take swift and comprehensive actions to review and reverse the improper failure of the former Snyder administration to bring Line 5-owner Enbridge under the rule of law. Enbridge has had its way with Michigan’s prior elected officials, and it is time to call a halt to this nonsense. Here are the steps to getting Enbridge out of the Great Lakes for good:

Proposed Oil Tunnel:

  1. Send a Letter: Tunnel Deal Is Dead– Governor Whitmer and Attorney General Nessel should send a formal letter to Enbridge advising the company that its agreements calling for a transfer or occupancy of the Straits of Mackinac public trust bottomlands, the new state-granted easement, and 99-year lease for the proposed oil tunnel that would house a new Line 5 are unenforceable unless Enbridge has obtained authorization under state law – the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act (GLSLA).

Line 5 in the Straits:

  1. Send another Letter: No Life Support for Line 5 – Governor Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), along with Attorney General Nessel, should send a letter to Enbridge advising it that the agreements purporting to grant Enbridge occupancy and use of waters and bottomlands the existing Line 5 for 10 years or more are unenforceable, because the former administration and Enbridge failed to obtain the required authorization under the GLSLA.
  1. Apply the Law to the Redesign of the Ailing Pipelines – Governor Whitmer and the DEQ, along with Attorney General Nessel, should investigate and correct the lack of review and showings required by the GLSLA and public trust law for the substantial change in design implemented for the 3 miles of pipeline elevated above the lakebed under the guise of “repair.” Enbridge should be instructed that it must show the risks and magnitude of harm are minimal and that there exist no other alternative than the existing line in the Straits or Great Lakes.

How Did We Get Here on Line 5? Tracing the Law and the Politics

The plotting of former Governor Snyder’s administration and Enbridge to hand over the public trust soils and bedrock under the Straits of Mackinac for the company to build and operate a new crude oil pipeline in a tunnel for 99 years has been put on hold.

On her first full day in office, Governor Gretchen Whitmer asked Attorney General Dana Nessel for a formal opinion on whether the Snyder-Enbridge agreement and legislature’s stamp of approval through a lame-duck law known as “Act 359” to hand over the Straits for Enbridge’s tunnel  to Enbridge was constitutional.  In late March, Attorney General Nessel found it was not constitutional because the legislature tried to graft a private tunnel-pipeline project onto a public infrastructure law that governs a public icon—the Mackinac Bridge.

Read more about the history and law surrounding Line 5 here!

  1. Revoke the Easement – Attorney General Nessel along with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), along with the above actions, revoke the 1953 easement because under the current circumstances the existing Line 5 is no longer in compliance with the common law standards of the paramount interests of the Great Lakes protected by public trust law; if Enbridge desires to continue using the existing line in the Straits, the company must submit an application for authorization of such use and occupancy along with the authorizations identified in this list.
  1. Increase Insurance Requirement and Verify It – Governor Whitmer, the DEQ, and the DNR, with the Attorney General, should require Enbridge to submit financial assurances that cover the worst case economic and natural resources damages of at least $6 billion (significantly more than the current cap of $1.8 billion), retain qualified experts to determine the adequacy of those assurances, and require Enbridge to name the State of Michigan as an “additional insured” and/or “named insured” on its insurance coverage for Line 5. Inadequate insurance is another cause for revoking the easement.

Once the Governor and Attorney General do these things, they will have taken action consistent with their pledge in being elected to lead the State and protect the Great Lakes, by nullifying the improper actions and agreements of their predecessors and bringing Enbridge, finally, under the rule of law. Regardless of the outcome, the interested parties, communities, and persons in this controversy and the government will be required to make determinations concerning the fate of Line 5 in an open forum based on facts, science, and law.  We are ruled by law, not by self-serving agreements that were plotted to avoid it.

Given President Trump’s executive orders this week to water-down or smooth over federal laws and regulations affecting water, the Great Lakes, and pipelines, it is more critical than ever that Governor Whitmer and Attorney General Nessel exercise the full jurisdiction and authority they and the State of Michigan under its exclusive power over use of the waters and bottomlands of the Great Lakes, its lakes and streams, public lands, and the public trust in the Great Lakes and navigable waters and public common property of Michigan. This trust imposes a duty on our leaders to protect the interests of citizens, the legal beneficiaries of this trust. Not the President, not Congress, not federal agencies, or state government can repeal, limit, or narrow the state’s duties and citizens’ individual and common rights under this public trust.

What Should Citizens Do?

It is quite simple: Citizens should do what they always do best. Continue to stay involved, increase communications to Governor Whitmer, Attorney General Nessel, and the Director of the DEQ, and the DNR.  These communications should do the following:

  • Thank our state leaders for taking action on the unconstitutional Act 359 and the misguided oil tunnel agreement;
  • Urge our state leaders to take immediate steps to implement the actions outlined above to formally scrap the oil tunnel and shut down Line 5.

FLOW Supports Gov. Whitmer’s Request for a ‘Line 5’ Opinion from Attorney General


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:                                                                                         January 2, 2019

Jim Olson, Founder and President                                                             Email: olson@envlaw.com
FLOW (For Love of Water), Traverse City, MI                                         Web: www.FLOWforWater.org
Cell: (231) 499-8831; Office: (231) 944-1568


FLOW Supports Gov. Whitmer’s Request for an Opinion from Attorney General on Legality of Hastily Crafted Law and Side Agreements on ‘Line 5’ Oil Pipelines and Proposed Tunnel in Mackinac Straits


The following statement can be attributed to Jim Olson, environmental attorney, founder, and president of FLOW (For Love of Water), a Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City:

“This first and immediate step by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in a letter asking Attorney General Dana Nessel for an opinion on Public Act 359 is critical in unpacking the layers of problems with the newly enacted law, any tunnel agreement, and most importantly the massive threat posed by the existing Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac, a threat that must be ended 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.”

“In the last three weeks of 2018, then-Gov. Rick Snyder, the Department of Environmental Quality, and Department of Natural Resources signed agreements to enable Enbridge to construct a tunnel that the state would own and lease to Enbridge for 99 years for a new crude oil pipeline under the waters and in the soils of the bottomlands of the Straits of Mackinac. In order to finalize the deal before the end of the year, the Republican-controlled legislature during the lame-duck session rushed through a law—Public Act 359—that set up a Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority to sign the tunnel deal with Enbridge and guarantee the transfer of publicly owned and controlled Great Lakes bottomlands and other financial benefits to Enbridge for private gain, the 99-year privately owned pipeline.

“During this same time, Governor Snyder, the DEQ, DNR, and Enbridge without public review finalized a separate agreement that would give Enbridge the right to continue using its existing dangerous and flawed Line 5 pipelines in the open waters of the Mackinac Straits for another 10 years, or as long as it takes to complete the tunnel and install the new pipeline.

“Everyone agrees that the release of oil to the Great Lakes would cause massive harm to those waters, as well as businesses, communities, property owners, tribal fishing rights, and the public’s paramount rights for fishing, boating, and recreation protected by the public trust doctrine – an ancient principle that prohibits the transfer of public lands and waters without compliance with laws that assure a public purpose and no imprudent risks to health, environment, and property.

“Public Act 359, coupled with the State’s public entanglement with Enbridge, puts private gain and economic interests above the State’s and public’s paramount trust interest in the waters and soils of the Great Lakes.  The 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. Act 359 and these 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 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 agreements are peppered with other serious problems, most of which are covered by the questions the Governor has asked the Attorney General to answer.  These 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 comingling 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 Governor and Attorney General will be followed by an immediate and full review of the Snyder administration’s and agencies’ mishandling of the grave and continuing risks of the existing Line 5, and the real and imminent threat to the Mackinac Straits, towns and cities like Mackinac Island, tribal fishing interests, private property interests, businesses, and the rights of the public in the Great Lakes.”


A Fresh Start for Fresh Water in Michigan


It is a fresh start for fresh water in Michigan.

Tuesday’s election of a new governor who stressed clean water issues offers opportunities that did not exist before the vote. A chief executive who champions water not only can persuade legislators to act, but also has the ability to act on her own by appointing water protectors to run state agencies and to serve on boards and commissions. And by directing them to take the steps needed to protect our water and our environment generally.

Gretchen Whitmer’s election also provides an opportunity for the state at last to take decisive action to protect the Great Lakes and the Pure Michigan economy from Enbridge’s Line 5 pipelines. She and the new attorney general of her own party will have several legal options for doing so.

Just as important, the new governor can promote water justice. Along with decommissioning Line 5, this is a top priority for FLOW. She can take the lead on legislation that will prevent water privatization by companies like Nestlé and help hard-pressed citizens of urban and rural areas access clean, affordable drinking water. FLOW has drafted model legislation that will serve as a template.

At the same time, the opposing party retains control of both houses of the state Legislature. This sometimes leads to gridlock, but water and health should not be partisan issues. Michigan government has served the people best when protecting the environment was a value shared regardless of party — as in the 1970s, when Republican Governor William Milliken and a Democratic Legislature enacted our landmark environmental laws.

Our new Governor and Legislature are guided by the same state constitution, which says: “The conservation and development of the natural resources of the state are hereby declared to be of paramount public concern in the interest of the health, safety and general welfare of the people. The legislature shall provide for the protection of the air, water and other natural resources of the state from pollution, impairment and destruction.”

If the governor-elect and new Legislature operate together in accordance with that mandate, our water will be well protected.