AG: Mackinac Legislation 'Unconstitutional'


The law to create the three-member Mackinac Straights Corridor Authority, approved by the Michigan Senate back in December, has been ruled unconstitutional by the state attorney general. The Authority would have overseen a tunnel underneath the straits that would serve to replace the Line 5 pipeline.

Former Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, signed off on the Mackinac Bridge Authority Law toward the end of last year. The current governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, asked for Attorney General Dana Nessel's legal opinion. In Whitmer’s view, the law is invalid. Earlier this year, Whitmer halted state agencies’ attempts to facilitate construction on the tunnel.

Line 5 History

The twin pipeline has been subject to increasing controversy in recent years as evidence of coating delamination and unsupported lengths of pipeline has raised concerns about a release in the Great Lakes. Line 5 has never leaked, though, and in the summer of 2017 passed a high-pressure hydrotest.

Enbridge has said that the pipeline poses no risk to the region, but neighbors, legislators and environmentalists have noted that any spill from the line could cause major damage to the environment in the tourism-heavy region.

A worst-case spill on Line 5, according to a recent risk analysis by Michigan Technological University, could affect more than 400 miles of shoreline on Lake Michigan and Lake Huron and come with a price tag of more than $1.8 billion.

A lawsuit filed at the end of August 2018 by the Environmental Law and Policy Center and the National Wildlife Fund alleged that a top Coast Guard official testified under oath in front of Congress the year before that the service is not adequately prepared for a worst-case spill on the line, though the Coast Guard does have a contingency plan in place to do just that.

In December, when the vote to make the Authority went through, the Authority panel was seen as an essential step toward replacing the underwater pipeline.

Tunnel Authority

Whitmer claimed that the legislation that allowed for the development of the Authority was invalid, because it went beyond the parameters of what was indicated in the measure’s title, changing the original purpose of the bill.

The bill authorized the Mackinac Bridge Authority to acquire a utility tunnel connecting the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan, created the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority and authorized the Bridge Authority or the Corridor Authority to operate a utility tunnel.

State legislature Republicans have dismissed Whitmer’s opinion, citing that a judge has already allowed the law to be as is.

The state attorney general’s communications director, Kelly Rossman-McKinney, noted that the attorney general thinks the opinion will be upheld. If that happens, though, consumer groups are likely to sue, according to the Engineering News-Record, given that Upper Peninsula residents oppose measures that would take Line 5 out of service without replacement.

Whitmer also opened up communication with Enbridge directly, as she is still open to a utility corridor or similar option that moves the pipeline out of the water. Whitmer did note that it would have to be built faster than the 10-year deal brokered under Snyder.

“I respect the Governor’s effort to find a swift and straightforward resolution to this issue, but if unsuccessful I will use every resource available to our office to shut down Line 5 to protect our Great Lakes,” said Nessel.

Though a spokesperson for Nessel has voiced the attorney general’s reluctance to impose a deadline on the governor’s efforts with Enbridge, hopes remain that the governor will have a plan to decommission Line 5 by June 1. The state’s attorney general noted that she would go on to seek a court injunction to shut down the pipeline, citing that Enbridge allegedly violated a 1953 state easement.

“The AG’s prospective involvement in decommissioning Line 5 concerns the hazards posed to the Great Lakes, not whether the use of oil pipelines in general makes for sound energy policy,” Rossman-McKinney said.


Tagged categories: Government; Infrastructure; NA; North America; Oil and Gas; Pipelines; Program/Project Management

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