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Biden Administration Arguments in Maine Pipeline Case Affirm Whitmer’s Right to Shut Down Line 5

Justice Department Tacitly Rejects Enbridge Energy’s Federal, International Pre-emption Claims

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The Biden Administration underscored in a new legal filing that federal law does not override a state or locality’s decision about where an oil pipeline should be located. This filing supported the notion that state orders similar to Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s to shut down the Line 5 pipeline in the Great Lakes are not subject to federal pre-emption. This important statement from U.S. Department of Justice in a Maine pipeline case affirmed Whitmer’s actions to protect the Straits of Mackinac and protect the Great Lakes from an ecological, economic, and public health catastrophe.

“The Biden Administration’s filing lays to rest the outlandish claim Enbridge Energy and its political allies have repeatedly raised that Governor Whitmer’s historic decision to shut down Line 5 was not hers to make,” said Oday Salim, staff attorney for the National Wildlife Federation. “Thank you to President Joe Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland for affirming that states have the right to protect public health and natural resources by determining where an oil pipeline can be located.” 

The Biden Administration’s filing came in a Maine case involving a Portland ordinance banning the transfer of oil from a pipeline to a marine facility. The brief, filed late Monday, expressly opposed the pre-emption of the local ordinance under the federal Pipeline Safety Act as well as the notion that federal foreign policy overrides the local ordinance.

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 fuel supplies to Michigan manufacturing plants 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.

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