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Federal appeals court hears MI challenge to Enbridge, Line 5

The Mackinac Bridge connects Michigan's Upper and Lower Peninsulas, and is five miles long.
Dan Wanschura / Interlochen Public Radio
Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline runs along the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac. (Photo: Dan Wanschura/Interlochen Public Radio)
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel wants the case heard in state court. Enbridge wants it to remain in federal hands.

The central argument is about whether Michigan has the authority to demand the pipeline's shutdown.

There's no timeline for a decision from the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Michigan’s authority to demand the shutdown of an oil and natural gas liquids pipeline that runs through the Straits of Mackinac is central to arguments heard Thursday before the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is challenging a decision that federal courts have jurisdiction over the future of Enbridge Energy’s Line 5. That’s after a judge moved her legal challenge from the Ingham County Circuit Court to a U.S. district court.

Nessel says her challenge to Line 5 is a state issue that should be decided at the state level.

“When a state attorney general makes state law claims they should be heard in a state court,” she told the Michigan Public Radio Network. “It’s pretty simple.”

“We indicated that the pipeline was violating the public trust, a public nuisance, the Michigan Environmental Protection Act,” she said. “These are all state law claims that were being made. And I think it really invokes the principals of federalism and state sovereignty.”

The Democratic attorney general also argued that Enbridge blew past deadlines to move the case from a state to a federal court and only after it appeared the company might have better luck before a federal judge.

But Enbridge said there are a host of international controversies related to the pipeline which runs through the U.S. and into Canada, including a segment in the Straits of Mackinac. Enbridge said that puts the argument within the province of federal courts.

Enbridge also argued it is the attorney general who is seeking a legal advantage with a venue change.

“In her appeal, the Attorney General continues to seek to undermine these considerations and promote gamesmanship and forum shopping, while ignoring the substantial federal issues that are properly decided in federal court and not state court,” said Enbridge spokesperson Ryan Duffy in a statement emailed to Michigan Public Radio.

The Line 5 controversy has lingered for years as Enbridge and backers of the oil pipeline have argued it ensures a reliable and affordable energy supply to much of Michigan. Critics, including environmental groups, say the line poses an unacceptable risk to much of the Great Lakes, especially because its path includes the point at which Lake Huron and Lake Michigan meet.

Disclosure: Enbridge is among Interlochen Public Radio's financial supporters. Decisions about news coverage are made independently by the newsroom.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.