Enbridge Exploits Wisconsin Line 5 Litigation to Harass Clean Water Advocates

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The National Wildlife Federation recently filed an amicus brief in a Wisconsin federal court calling out Enbridge Energy for using legal maneuvering in its ongoing litigation with the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa to pry into the internal communications among conservation organizations opposed to the illegal operation of Line 5. 

“Attorneys know that when you have the facts on your side, you pound the facts. When you have the law on your side, you pound the law. And when you have neither, you pound the table. Without the facts or law on its side, Enbridge has flipped the table and resorted to harassment and the offensive infantilization of the Tribe,” said Mike Shriberg, Great Lakes Regional Executive Director for the National Wildlife Federation. “Enbridge has demonstrated time and again that it cannot protect the Great Lakes from an ecological, economic, and public health catastrophe. It’s also underscoring, for the public and courts, that it can’t help but pollute our justice system, too.” Enbridge’s attempts to obtain communications from conservation organizations come as part of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa’s trespass case in Wisconsin federal court against Enbridge Energy and its illegal operation of Line 5 through Tribal lands.

This recent filing came on the heels of the National Wildlife Federation successfully beating back a similar attempt by Enbridge to get a federal judge in Virginia to compel production of internal National Wildlife Federation files and communications with other advocacy groups and the Bad River Band. Enbridge’s pretense for seeking these records was their misleading contention that the Bad River Band is not really interested in the injury caused by Enbridge’s continued illegal operation of Line 5 on Tribal lands, but is rather doing the bidding of the National Wildlife Federation and others as part of a larger strategy involving Line 5. 

The National Wildlife Federation was the first organization to recognize the threat that Line 5 poses via the landmark 2012 “Sunken Hazard” report. Since then, the National Wildlife Federation has partnered with numerous allies and led efforts to shut down Line 5, including commissioning the seminal University of Michigan studies of the risks Line 5 poses, sending divers to inspect the pipelines, commissioning the definitive reports on alternatives to Line 5 — which critically showed that energy supplies to Michigan would not be affected by shutting down Line 5 — being appointed to the Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board, and running sophisticated and effective public education campaigns.

The more than six-decade-old Line 5 pipeline, operated by Enbridge Energy, carries up to 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids per day from Superior, Wisc., to Sarnia, Ontario, taking a shortcut through Michigan and along the lake bottom of the Straits of Mackinac. The Mackinac Straits section of Line 5, designed to last 50 years, has been plagued by a range of issues, including missing protective coatings to multiple strikes by anchors and other objects. The pipeline lies in what University of Michigan researchers have called “the worst possible place for an oil spill” in the Great Lakes.

In a motion filed in in late February, Enbridge demanded that the National Wildlife Federation comply with document disclosures as though there were a party to the case and, in effect, running the Tribe’s litigation strategy.

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