Tag: Attorney General Schuette

PR: Citizens Respond to Attorney General Schuette: Get Off the Sidelines on Line 5 and Protect Great Lakes

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Media Contacts: Leonard Page 231-268-8430/ leonard@thepages.net
David Holtz 313-300-4454/david@davidholtz.org

 

Citizens Respond to Attorney General Schuette:

Get Off the Sidelines on Line 5 and Protect Great Lakes

Responding today to a letter from Attorney General Bill Schuette, citizens groups from across the state told state officials that their decision to “stand on the sidelines” by failing to enforce legal requirements on pipeline operator Enbridge Energy Partners is putting the Great Lakes at risk from a catastrophic oil spill in the Straits of Mackinac.

In a March 8 letter to the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign, the attorney general, Dept. of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh and Dept. of Environmental Quality Director Heidi Grether responded to revelations that protective anti-corrosion coatings were missing from 18 areas of Enbridge’s Line 5 in the Straits.  In their letter, Schuette, Creagh and Grether said they would investigate findings in a late 2016 report detailing the missing coatings as well as other evidence calling into question claims by Enbridge that Line 5 is safe.

In their response letter today to state officials, citizens groups told Schuette and other state officials that their failure to assert regulatory authority over Line 5 in the Straits could result in an oil spill that would “devastate our public drinking waters and our water-dependent economy.”

“It is not enough to stand on the sidelines or fail to take action that has the effect of complicity by deferring to Enbridge,” the groups said in their letter to Schuette.  “For nearly two years, we have heard our state leaders declare that the days of this pipeline are numbered and that Line 5 wouldn’t be built today.  However, the State of Michigan has not taken a single preventative measure to make our Great Lakes safer from a catastrophic oil spill.”

The missing Line 5 coatings, the groups said, violated a 1953 easement agreement with the state and should, at a minimum, have resulted in enforcement action against Enbridge.  By instead deferring to Enbridge, the state’s failure to act allows Enbridge to avoid comprehensive review of Line 5 and delays any potential action for months while the state continues to study the pipelines. 

“Attorney General Schuette’s urgency in protecting the Great Lakes and our communities from an oil spill seems to be missing,” said attorney Leonard Page of the Straits Area Concerned Citizens for Peace, Justice and the Environment.  “We need action now, before Line 5 ruptures and destroys our way of life and economy.”

In April 2016 the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign wrote Schuette and other state officials, identifying eight violations of the 1953 easement, including missing pipeline anchors, emergency oil spill response plan violations along with issues related to pipeline coatings in the Straits.  While the state notified Enbridge of easement violations, it has yet to require Enbridge to submit to a comprehensive environmental assessment under state law.  A current series of studies being done by the state with $3.6 million in funding from Enbridge are advisory.

“What Attorney General Schuette or any state official can’t tell us is how the structural integrity of these pipelines in the Straits are holding up against age, strong currents, missing anchors and missing coatings,” said David Holtz, chair of Sierra Club Michigan Chapter Executive Committee.  “They can’t tell us that because they are not taking the kind of enforcement actions that could produce answers.  They are not prioritizing protecting the Great Lakes over Enbridge’s profits.”

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Oil & Water Don’t Mix is a campaign supported by 22 organizations and thousands of citizens businesses who want to end the threat of a Great Lakes oil spill by shutting down the flow of oil through Enbridge’s Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac.

The March 27, 2017 letter to Attorney General Schuette, the March 8 letter to OWDM from Schuette and OWDM’s original letter to Schuette are located here:

http://www.oilandwaterdontmix.org/owdm_response_to_ag_schuette_michigans_legal_duty

End Enbridge Stonewalling

Observations by some that the State of Michigan has no regulatory authority over hazardous liquid pipelines is correct to the extent that it is understood in the context of  safety regulations — standards, inspection and enforcement; safety code enforcement is covered by the federal PHMSA law, regulation and agency.  However, it is not true that Michigan does not have authority to demand the information Enbridge keeps under its control, and it is not true that Michigan does not have enforcement authority.

As concluded by the Michigan Petroleum Pipeline Task Force Report, 2015, Michigan has authority under the 1953 Easement, including the continuing obligation of Enbridge to conduct itself with prudence at all times, and it has authority under:

(1) its sovereign ownership of bottomlands and waters of the Great Lakes since statehood in 1837 under “equal footings” doctrine. Michigan took title in trust to protect the basic rights of citizens as beneficiaries of a public trust imposed on the state.  This means the state has authority and duty to take actions to protect the public trust as a matter of its “property and public trust power,” whether or not it passes regulations on hazardous liquid pipelines or not.  Under public trust authority and principles, the state cannot transfer or shift control over waters and bottomlands held in trust to any private person or corporation; the retention of information by Enbridge that is required to protect the public trust or to determine whether the public trust is threatened with high unacceptable harm or risk violates this public trust principle, and the Attorney General can demand and take all action necessary to compel Enbridge to turn it over, indeed, even the easement recognizes and is subject to this public trust.

(2)  The Michigan Public Service Commission has authority over siting and locations of crude oil pipelines like Enbridge’s and others.  Anytime Enbridge or some other corporation applies for a change or improvement to the structure it regulates as to siting, including its consideration of risks to property and health or environment and alternatives, the MPSC has authority to demand all relevant information needed to  make a decision on the application for such change.  Unfortunately, the MPSC has not insisted on the full range of information it could demand, including alternative pipeline routes and capacity to Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac when it doubled capacity for Enbridge’s new replacement for the failed Line 6B that ruptured into the Kalamazoo River in 2010.

(3) Finally, the Michigan Environmental Protection Act, Part 17,  NREPA, imposes a duty to prevent and minimize harm to air, water, and natural resources, and this includes the right to take action where necessary when a corporation’s actions are contrary to this duty to prevent and minimize harm; the MEPA, as it’s  often called, is derived from Art 4, Sec. 52 of the Michigan Constitution.

So while Michigan ponders the aging or new pipeline infrastructure for hazardous liquids and crude oil, the state, including the Attorney General, have the authority to take immediate action to prevent the high risk of Line 5 or other pipelines.  And, where that risk involves the devastating harm that undoubtedly may occur in the Straits, action should be taken immediately pending the coming one to two years of pondering.  In short, there is no legal excuse or justification for Governor Snyder, Attorney General Bill Schuette, or the Department of Environmental Quality to put up with Enbridge’s self-serving stonewalling on disclosure of all information related to its Line 5 hazardous crude oil pipeline.  And, there is no excuse or justification for our state leaders to delay action to eliminate the unacceptable harm from the Straits or other Michigan waters from Line 5.