Feds Hauled Into Court Over Michigan Pipeline

     DETROIT (CN) — U.S. regulators prematurely signed off on Enbridge’s plan to transport oil across an aging pipeline, a nonprofit says in a federal complaint.
     “We are taking action today to protect people, communities, wildlife, and the Great Lakes from a potential oil disaster,” Mike Shriberg, with the National Wildlife Federation, said in a press release.
     “Michigan is home to the largest inland oil disaster in U.S. history, and we need to make sure that we never experience that again,” added Shriberg, who serves as the group’s Great Lakes regional executive director. “The federal government needs to do its job in protecting the Great Lakes; that has not happened to date and, therefore, Line 5 should not be allowed to operate.”
     The federal complaint that Shriberg’s group filed Monday says the Line 5 pipeline runs 641 miles from Superior, Wisconsin, to Sarnia, Ontario, Canada, transporting up to 22.7 million gallons per day of crude oil or natural gas liquids.
     With the 63-year-old pipeline passing through 19 Michigan counties and various waterways in the state, the National Wildlife Federation notes that Enbridge’s track record is concerning.
     “From 1999 to 2014, pipelines owned or operated by Enbridge and related entities spilled or leaked on over 1,000 occasions and discharged more than five million gallons into the environment,” the complaint states. “This includes the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history: a spill of almost a million gallons in the Kalamazoo River, in Michigan, in 2010.”
     Rather than take aim at Enbridge, however, the federation filed its suit against the Marie Therese Dominquez, the administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
     PHMSA is responsible only for reviewing and approving onshore oil pipelines, not lines that run through bodies of water, and the federation claims jurisdiction here since Line 5 traverses the Mackinaw straits and the St. Clair River, along with 11 tributaries.
     “PHMSA does not have the authority to review and approve response plans for inland offshore pipelines,” according to the complaint.
     The federation also brought claims against PHMSA under the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.
     “The approval of the plan for these sections of the pipeline without authorization has, is, or may adversely affect the residences of one or more of NWF’s members or the areas that one or more of NWF’s members use or enjoy for scientific research , the recovery of endangered or threatened species, recreational pursuits, or aesthetic enjoyment,” the complaint states.
     Environmentalists say the dwarf lake iris and the piping plover are among 12 threatened or endangered species that inhabit the area that Line 5 crosses.
     The pipeline could also harm the American bald eagle, which is still protected, though no longer endangered, under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
     National Wildlife Federation attorney Neil Kagan filed the suit for the group, seeking injunctive and declaratory relief.
     PHMSA spokesman Darius Kirkwood said they do not comment on pending litigation.
     When Plains LPG Services requested a presidential permit to transport crude oil through two 98-year old pipelines on the bottom of the St. Clair River, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette opposed the plan last month in a letter to the U.S. Department of State.
     “The Great Lakes literally define our state and are the lifeblood of our environment and economy,” Schuette wrote. “Almost nothing is known about the construction of the pipelines in 1918. The current condition of the pipelines and their suitability for transporting crude oil has not been document or independently verified.”
     Food & Water Watch, another group that opposes Line 5, notes on its website that the commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard Commandant testified before Congress in 2015 that the Coast Guard would be unable to respond effectively to an open water oil spill in the Great Lakes.
     University of Michigan hydrodynamics expert David Schwab published a 2014 study that called the Straits of Mackinac the “worst possible place” in the Great Lakes for an oil spill, because of the strong currents.
     Any potential spill could also have a dire impact on public water supplies, as it crosses through the vicinity of 52 schools and 126 medical facilities, along with private residences and businesses.
     Schuette, who formerly served as co-chair of the Michigan Petroleum Pipeline Task Force, emphasized in his April 15 letter that “allowing crude oil to be transported through these pipelines would create significant, unnecessary risks to public health and the environment.”
     The U.S. Coast Guard and Enbridge reportedly simulated a Line 5 spill response in September 2015.
     Gov. Rick Snyder told UpNorthLive.com that he has two groups currently looking into the Line 5 situation. One is to perform an assessment of the risks and challenges of the pipeline and the other is to find out what alternatives might exist to using the pipeline.

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