Michigan Tribes, Green Groups Ask Court to Overturn Line 5 Tunnel Permit

Parties point to key evidence excluded in the MPSC case


Timna Axel, Earthjustice, (773) 828-0712, taxel@earthjustice.org

Amy M. Echo-Hawk, Native American Rights Fund, 303-447-8760 x5, media@narf.org

Yesterday, four Tribal Nations filed a brief asking the Michigan Court of Appeals to overturn the Michigan Public Service Commission’s (MPSC’s) recent approval for Canadian oil giant Enbridge to build the Line 5 tunnel project beneath the Straits of Mackinac. The tunnel project would extend the operational life of the pipeline, pumping oil through the middle of the Great Lakes for decades. The Tribes argue that the Commissioners unlawfully barred key evidence about the public need for Line 5 and about the risk of future oil spills along the pipeline’s length.

“We agree the dual pipelines must be removed from the Straits, but the Commissioners never considered that Michigan does not need to keep this pipeline operating at all,” said Bay Mills Indian Community President Whitney Gravelle. “They’ve simply acted as a rubber stamp for Enbridge, gambling our most important resource for the sake of foreign oil profits. Every Tribal Nation and every Michigander deserves better than this.”

Earthjustice and the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) filed the challenge on behalf of the Bay Mills Indian Community, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians, and Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi, who have lived on the lands of present-day Michigan since time immemorial. Six other organizations, including national and local business and environmental groups, are also challenging the permit.

Enbridge’s own analysis shows that Line 5 could be decommissioned with almost no impact on Michigan gas prices, a decision that would also hasten the state’s transition to clean energy sources. Yet the MPSC refused to allow the Tribal Nations to submit evidence on these topics.

Since it was constructed in 1953, Line 5 has spilled over 1.1 million gallons of oil. The Commission also barred the Tribal Nations from submitting evidence about the history of spills and the risks that they will continue in the future.

“Making a decision to approve the tunnel without hearing this evidence is like deciding to fix the windshield of a car before you know if the engine still works,” said Earthjustice Senior Attorney Christopher Clark. “It’s backwards and very dangerous.”

“This pipeline was built without even consulting tribal nations and it now threatens their treaty-protected territory on a daily basis,” said NARF Attorney David L. Gover. “The public need is to shut it down, not to keep it operating.”

Line 5 is currently operating in violation of a shutdown order from the Governor of Michigan and in unlawful trespass on the reservation of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in Wisconsin.

Canoes and kayaks on the lake next to a larger bridge, holding a sign that says Evict Enbridge.
Protestors paddle next to the Mackinac Bridge at the Pipe Out Paddle Up Flotilla Against the Line 5 pipeline in Mackinaw City, Michigan. (Sarah Rice for Earthjustice)

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