The Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) today granted Canadian oil giant Enbridge a permit to replace the existing Line 5 dual oil pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac with an untested underground pipeline tunnel. The Bay Mills Indian Community, represented by Earthjustice and the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), fought to prevent this outcome in a lengthy contested case before the MPSC. Safety experts warn that the tunnel project could lead to a massive explosion and an oil spill in the heart of the Great Lakes, which hold 84 percent of North America’s surface freshwater.
The Tribal Nation and their legal partners condemned the decision:
Bay Mills President Whitney Gravelle: “Instead of complying with a Governor’s public safety order to decommission Line 5 in Michigan, individuals working at a state agency granted Enbridge a permit for a project for which they hold no property rights and no safety track record in good standing. Today’s decision is another notch in a long history of ignoring the rights of Tribal Nations. We must act now to protect the peoples of the Great Lakes from an oil spill, to lead our communities out of the fossil fuel era, and to preserve the shared lands and waters in Michigan for all of us.”
NARF Attorney David Gover: “While Enbridge Energy may have a permit from a state agency to proceed, the idea to build a pipeline tunnel under the Great Lakes at the Straits of Mackinac remains unsound and too risky. The proposed project still needs other permits to move forward. We cannot allow one corporation to imperil the ecosystems and lives of all those that live nearby or depend on the Straits for their well-being.”
Earthjustice Senior Attorney Christopher Clark: “Today’s decision ignores the concerns of tribal communities in favor of the profit of a fossil fuel company. The evidence before the Commission demonstrated that the proposed tunnel would put the Great Lakes region at serious risk and profoundly endanger the identity and lifeways of the Bay Mills Indian Community, a sovereign Tribal Nation whose relationship to these waters pre-exists the United States. We will use every open avenue to shut down Line 5 in order to avert an environmental catastrophe and slow the unthinkable impacts of climate change.”
The Bay Mills Indian Community is currently challenging a separate permit for the tunnel project that was granted in 2021 by Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE). In addition, Bay Mills is advocating with the US Army Corps of Engineers, which is expected to release a draft federal review of the tunnel project’s environmental impacts in spring of 2025.
“Protecting the Great Lakes from the threat of Line 5 has been our priority for a number of years,” added attorney Rebecca Liebing, in-house counsel for Bay Mills Indian Community. “We are more resolved than ever to retire this outdated and dangerous oil pipeline.”