Yes, Michigan Has the Authority to Kill Line 5. Here’s How.

You’d never build a pipeline like this today.

This recent statement by For the Love of Water’s executive director Liz Kirkwood reflects the consensus among Great Lakes environmentalists. For years they’ve been condemning the ancient twin Embridge Line 5 petroleum pipelines that run under the Straits of Mackinac between the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan. The pipes cross another 245 rivers and streams throughout the state.

Built in 1953 long before the term ‘environmentalist’ even existed, the oil pipeline was never designed to pump this much oil, last this long, or sustain the unyielding currents of the Great Lakes. Critics worry, and rightly so, that a major rupture could happen at any time, spilling hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil into the world’s largest fresh water preserve.

Embridge has the distinction of causing the second largest land-based oil spill, also in Michigan, in 2010. It was overshadowed by the greatest man made ecological disaster in US history that same summer when the Deep Water Horizon rig exploded, for months leaking hundreds of millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

A recent state deal backed by the same right-wing governor responsible for poisoning Flint’s water supply will allow Embridge to replace a few sections of its derelict Line 5 pipes. Backers say “nothing is off the table” but they’ve made no indication retirement is on the table at any point in the future.

Predictably, supporters also say “more studies” are needed on the pipeline, a typical stalling tactic of the fossil fuel industry meant to obfuscate and allow public focus to dither.

But in a state that borders all but one of the Great Lakes, shutting down Line five entirely has more bipartisan support than any other local issue. As you’d expect though, despite public outcry, politicians say there’s nothing they can do.

Or at least they used to.

Dana Nessel is running for Michigan attorney general. At her August 2017 campaign launch she said what no Michigan Democrat has said, “On my first day, I will file to shut down Enbridge line 5. There will be no more risking the sanctity of the Great Lakes.

The Detroit Free Press fleshed out her platform: “She detailed a list of priorities, including increasing diversity in the office, stopping prosecutions of marijuana crimes, defending Planned Parenthood, expanding civil rights protections for the LGBTQ community and creating a public integrity unit to ensure bad cops can’t transfer from department to department.

Sounds like Nessel has a slightly left of center Democratic platform. But as to her claim that she’ll shut down Line 5 on day one if elected, the question is, can she actually do that?

The answer, according to the blog Michigan Journal of Race & Law, is an emphatic YES:

Line 5 is operated under a contract with the state of Michigan that has remained in place since the 1953 installation allowing the easement under the straits. Contracts with the state are managed and overseen by the State Administrative Board, a committee which consists of representatives from the offices of the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, […among others]. Even if all three other elected positions were amenable to Ms. Nessel’s efforts, that would provide a 4-3 split.  However, there are other grounds to fulfill Ms. Nessel’s campaign promise, some of them quite underutilized.

M.C.L.A. 14.28 authorizes the Michigan attorney general to “intervene in and appear for the people of this state in any other court or tribunal, in any cause or matter, civil or criminal, in which the people of this state may be a party or interested.” This broad wording provides a great deal of discretion…for example, the Great Lakes Water Authority is a regional authority that provides water and sewer for approximately 3.9 million Michiganders. Thus, a suit brought on the GLWA’s behalf would seem to have firm legal standing.”

It’s rare for those running for attorney general or state treasurer positions to take bold policy positions if they don’t ultimately have eyes on governor or senate offices.

Still, squeemish Michigan Democrats can no longer claim they don’t have a weapon to kill Line 5. Indeed, Dana Nessel’s campaign will definitely be one to watch in 2018.