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Gov. Whitmer on Efforts to Protect the Great Lakes from Line 5 Oil Spill After Canada Invokes Treaty with United States


October 4, 2021  


Gov. Whitmer on Efforts to Protect the Great Lakes from Line 5 Oil Spill After Canada Invokes Treaty with United States    

LANSING, Mich. - Governor Gretchen Whitmer today released the following statement after Canada filed a letter in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan indicating that it had formally requested negotiations with the United States under Article IX of the 1977 Transit Pipelines Treaty in connection with Michigan's actions with respect to Line 5. 

"I am profoundly disappointed that today the Government of Canada chose to invoke Article IX of the 1977 Transit Pipelines Treaty in a bid to help Enbridge, a private oil company, keep crude oil running indefinitely through Michigan's Straits of Mackinac," said Governor Whitmer. "So long as oil is flowing through the pipelines, there is a very real threat of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes. I have made clear to Enbridge that it cannot use our state-owned lakebed for these pipelines, but Enbridge has refused to stop. Moreover, rather than taking steps to diversify energy supply and ensure resilience, Canada has channeled its efforts into defending an oil company with an abysmal environmental track record." 

"Michigan is, and will remain, a strong partner with Canada on a range of issues," continued Whitmer. "However, I will not remain silent when the fate of the Great Lakes and Michigan hangs in the balance. I had expected that Canada, a nation that prides itself on its commitment to environmental protection, would share my interest in protecting the Great Lakes. Instead, the Government of Canada has chosen to do the bidding of the very oil company responsible for the 2010 Kalamazoo River Oil Spill - one of the largest inland oil spills in the history of the nation that happened right here in Michigan. At the same time, Canada is proposing to store nuclear waste in the Great Lakes Basin, adding even more risk to our waters. I remain confident that Michigan will prevail in its legal efforts with respect to Line 5, regardless of today's action, and I will continue to fight to get the pipelines out of the water. I call on Prime Minister Trudeau to reverse his decision." 

The Great Lakes are home to 21% of the world's fresh surface water. The lakes supply drinking water for 48 million people, including 5 million here in Michigan, and support 1.3 million jobs that generate $82 billion in wages annually across the United States. In Michigan, the Great Lakes support over 350,000 jobs. The Line 5 pipeline is a ticking time bomb that could lead to an oil spill in the Great Lakes, which would put families and small businesses across the region at risk. 

Enbridge has a troubling environmental record, most notably when an Enbridge pipeline ruptured in 2010, causing one of the worst inland oil spills in U.S. history and dumping one million gallons of oil into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River. And Canada's push to store high-level radioactive nuclear waste near Lake Huron has shown that Canada is unwilling to prioritize the Great Lakes over their own energy interests. 

In November of 2020, Governor Whitmer and Department of Natural Resources Director Dan Eichinger notified Enbridge that the 1953 easement allowing it to operate dual pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac to transport petroleum and other products was being revoked and terminated. The notice required Enbridge to cease operations of the dual pipelines in the Straits by May of 2021, allowing for an orderly transition that protects Michigan's energy needs.  

Governor Whitmer and Director Eichinger also filed a lawsuit asking the Ingham County Circuit Court to recognize the validity of the revocation and termination of the easement. Enbridge subsequently removed this case to federal court, and the State of Michigan has filed a motion to remand the case back to state court. Twenty-eight entities, including sixteen states and the District of Columbia, four Native American Tribes, six environmental organizations and the Great Lakes Business Network have filed an amicus briefs in support of this motion to remand. 

To ensure Michigan's energy needs are met, Governor Whitmer and the Michigan Public Service Commission launched the MI Propane Security Plan to protect jobs and diversify and expand our renewable energy resources. Since early in 2019, the Whitmer Administration has been preparing for potential alternatives to ensure energy security for both of Michigan's peninsulas in the event of a Line 5 closure.  

As of May 12, Enbridge has been unlawfully trespassing on state land as it continues to pump oil under the Straits of Mackinac beyond the deadline to cease operations. If successful in its action to enforce its revocation and termination of the easement, the administration will seek disgorgement of Enbridge's profits derived from its wrongful use of the easement lands after May 12. 

In addition to invoking Article IX of the Treaty, which provides a process for the resolution of Treaty disputes between the United States and Canada, Canada has asked the Court to hold its proceedings in abeyance while this Treaty process is ongoing. The first step in this process is formal negotiations, which Canada has now requested. 

Michigan has made clear in its filings that there is no legal reason that the Court should wait to rule in our case, and this remains true, even in light of Canada's action today. Each day that Line 5 continues operating increases the risk of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes. Michigan's actions have been fully consistent with the Treaty and Michigan's authority with respect to environmental protection.