Enbridge Inc. plans to continue operating Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac until a tunnel is completed to house the twin oil and natural gas liquids pipelines, a company official said in a letter Tuesday to the Whitmer administration.
The letter from Vern Yu — Enbridge’s executive vice president and president of liquids pipelines — is in response to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s November notice that the state was revoking the company’s easement to operate in the Straits. The notice gave Enbridge 180 days to prepare for shutting down Line 5 in the Straits.
However, Enbridge claims the state lacks authority to revoke the 1953 easement. Yu states that the revocation would violate federal law, claiming the “federal Pipeline Safety Act preempts Michigan’s attempt to enforce its own safety standards on the Dual Lines or to take any action to close the Dual Lines.”
The company also claims that the state didn’t provide sufficient evidence of easement violations in its notice, which Yu says “ignores scientific evidence and is based on inaccurate and outdated information.”
“As a result, the Notice repeatedly fails to acknowledge that our Dual Lines in the Straits are safe and in full compliance with the federal pipeline safety standards that govern them, have been found fit to operate by (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration), and that no basis for termination or revocation of the Easement exists,” Yu wrote.
On Nov. 13, the state took steps to terminate Enbridge’s 68-year-old easement that allows it to operate Line 5 for 4.5 miles along the Straits of Mackinac bottomlands. The state filed a complaint in Ingham County Circuit Court claiming that the easement is “void from its inception” because it violates the public trust doctrine and never found that the project would provide a public benefit. The state also claimed Enbridge had “persistent and incurable violations” of the easement’s terms.
The Whitmer administration’s approach aligns with similar legal claims made by Attorney General Dana Nessel.
Enbridge has asked the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan to dismiss the state’s civil suit as contrary to federal law.
In his letter, Yu says Whitmer, Nessel and Department of Natural Resources Director Dan Eichinger lack the authority to “disregard the Legislature’s policy-making prerogative when it comes to the public trust and continued operation of the Dual Lines.”
Enbridge’s legal arguments also hinge on a late-2018 agreement approved by state lawmakers and the administration of former Gov. Rick Snyder that allows the company to continue to operate the pipeline in the Straits until a pipeline tunnel project is completed.
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