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AG Nessel, Michigan tribes, voice support for Bad River Band appeal of Line 5 ruling

The Mackinac Bridge on a stormy day, with dark rain clouds overhead
Lexi Krupp
Interlochen Public Radio
Line 5 splits into twin pipelines just west of the Mackinac Bridge, and crosses along the lakebed for four miles. (File photo: Lexi Krupp/IPR News)

This coverage is made possible through a partnership with IPR and Grist, a nonprofit independent media organization dedicated to telling stories of climate solutions and a just future.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has lent her support to a Wisconsin tribe’s efforts to shut down part of Line 5.

In 2019, the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians sued Enbridge Energy Company, which owns the pipeline. The lawsuit said Enbridge is operating illegally on the Bad River Reservation in Wisconsin.

Last June, Wisconsin’s Federal Court ruled in favor of the tribe, at least in part.

U.S. District Judge William Conley agreed that Enbridge is trespassing on the tribe’s lands, but he said that an immediate shutdown could harm the economy and fuel supplies.

Conley gave Enbridge three years to close the section of Line 5 crossing the Bad River Band's lands, which is about 12 miles long. Conley also ordered the company to pay the tribe more than $5 million dollars.

But both Enbridge and the Bad River Band appealed that decision.

Enbridge said a 1992 agreement between the company and the tribe is valid through 2043, while the tribe said the judge's order didn’t do enough to prevent an oil spill. It also argued that the financial compensation for years of trespass is too meager.

Now, Nessel is backing the tribe's appeal in the form of an amicus brief. She said erosion of the Bad River’s bank could expose the pipeline directly to the river, which means the pipeline has a greater chance of breaking and spilling oil into the waterway flowing to Lake Superior.

Twenty-seven tribal nations also filed a brief on Wednesday supporting the Bad River Band’s lawsuit against Enbridge.

Among them are five northern Michigan and Upper Peninsula tribes: the Bay Mills Indian Community, the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians and the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians.

Separately, Nessel sued Enbridge in 2019 to decommission Line 5 completely. In 2022, the company succeeded in moving the case from state to federal court. Nessel is trying to get it moved back to the state.

All of Michigan’s federally recognized tribes have passed resolutions demanding that Line 5 be shut down.

The pipeline stretches 645 miles from Superior, Wisconsin, across Michigan, including the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac. It ends in Sarnia, Ontario, and transports about 23 million gallons of crude oil and natural gas liquids every day, according to the state.

Republican lawmakers in Michigan last week sent a letter to federal and state officials pushing to start constructing a pipeline tunnel project under the straits.

Izzy covers climate change for communities in northern Michigan and around the Great Lakes for IPR through a partnership with Grist.org.