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Federal appeals court takes up question of which court should hear Line 5 dispute

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio

A federal appeals court said Friday that it will take up the question of whether Michigan’s effort to shut down Enbridge Energy’s petroleum pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac should be heard by a state or federal judge.

The question of venue is key for both the state and the energy company. In general, legal scholars have said, state law is more favorable to Michigan’s case, and federal law favors Enbridge.

The legal case began in Ingham County Circuit Court in 2019, where Michigan argued that Line 5 in the Straits poses an unacceptable threat to the health of the Great Lakes, and Enbridge’s operation of the pipeline is in violation of Michigan’s public trust doctrine.

In 2021 Enbridge removed the case to federal court: the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan.

Since then, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has made several efforts, each unsuccessful, to move the case back to state court.

Now, she has another chance. The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed to review the decision that placed the case in federal court.

“As Michigan’s top law enforcement official, I brought this case forward on behalf of the People of Michigan to protect Michigan’s Great Lakes,” Nessel said in a statement Friday. “It is a Michigan case that belongs in a Michigan court.”

In a statement from the company, an Enbridge spokesperson said Nessel's appeal was promoting "gamesmanship and forum shopping, while ignoring the substantial federal issues that are properly decided in federal court and not state court."

The company is confident that the appeals court will agree with the lower court that placed the case under federal jurisdiction, the statement said.

In the meantime, Enbridge said it's moving ahead with plans for a tunnel that would carry the pipeline underneath the Straits of Mackinac. (The current pipeline runs along the lakebed at the bottom of the Straits.)

The tunnel would "make a safe pipeline safer, assure long term energy security and reliability, and support Michigan jobs and the economy," the company said.

Brett Dahlberg
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