By DAVID EGGERT
MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. (AP) — Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said on Wednesday she will try in June to shut down a Great Lakes oil pipeline if the governor cannot reach a resolution with the operator of the line, Enbridge, saying the state will be in “great peril” if oil continues to flow under a delicate waterway.
Nessel revealed her plans in an interview with The Associated Press at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s policy conference, near where Line 5 runs under the Straits of Mackinac. Her comments came a month after she had said she was hopeful that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer would release a plan by June 1 for decommissioning the 66-year-old pipes.
Nessel, a Democrat, said she has had “lengthy conversations” with Whitmer, also a Democrat, about the pipeline, and that she and the governor “have always been aligned on this issue.” Whitmer, though, has irked environmentalists by saying she is open to the construction of a new segment of Line 5 in Straits of Mackinac, which is where lakes Huron and Michigan meet. The tunnel plan was also supported by Whitmer’s Republican predecessor. The new governor’s administration is talking with the Canadian company Enbridge after Nessel deemed said the law authorizing the tunnel, which was passed in 2008, was unconstitutional.
Nessel said she has a number of legal avenues at her disposal to decommission the pipeline.
“When we file it, it’ll be available to the public and they’ll be able to have an opportunity to see all the legal arguments that we’ve made,” she said. “My team has been meeting on this since the first day that I took office. I want to obviously act quickly because I think every day that Line 5 continues to run is a day that our state is in great peril.”
Line 5 carries about 23 million gallons of crude oil daily between the city of Superior and Sarnia, Ontario. The underwater segment that traverses the Straits of Mackinac is divided into two side-by-side lines.
Environmental groups contend that the segment presents spill risks and should be decommissioned. Enbridge says the line is in good shape and could operate indefinitely. The pipeline project is supported by labor organizations friendly to Whitmer because of the jobs it would create.
Nessel said she does not support building a tunnel but added: “I’m not the governor, and I’m not a policymaker, and I am not in the state Legislature. That’s not my decision to make. What is my job, though, is to defend the Michigan Constitution, which very plainly and very specifically calls for the defense of the sanctity of the Great Lakes and to protect our drinking water and to protect Michigan’s natural resources.”
Asked if a new tunnel deal would be legal, Nessel said she could not comment on “an agreement I haven’t seen.”
A spokeswoman for Whitmer, Tiffany Brown, said the governor is committed to having a plan that would ensure the Great Lakes are protected, the pipeline is removed as quickly as possible and that there is energy for Upper Peninsula residents.
Roughly 75 activists opposed to the pipeline and the proposed tunnel visited Mackinac Island on Wednesday, walking near the entrance of the well-known Grand Hotel, the site of an annual conference attended by business, political and other leaders.
Nathan Wright, of Petoskey, said building a tunnel would be a “blueprint to disaster” and said he was hopeful that Whitmer “is going to make the right decision.” Rita Mitchell of Ann Arbor said it is “unbelievable” that state officials are considering “something that would be so permanent.”
GOP lawmakers and Enbridge have described the complex plans for the tunnel as something that would not only be mutually beneficial and keep oil flowing through Line 5 but also eventually lead to the decommissioning of the straits-area segment and its replacement.