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Judge sides with Enbridge, keeps Line 5 case in federal court

A federal judge has struck a blow to the state of Michigan’s effort to shut down Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline, which carries oil and other fossil fuels across the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac.

The judge denied the state’s efforts to move its Line 5 lawsuit from federal court back to state court. The lawsuit, initially filed by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, claimed that Enbridge had violated its state easement, and that Line 5 posed an environmental threat to the Great Lakes.

The case started out in state court. But after two years of litigating there, Enbridge argued it should be moved to federal court because the case deals with federal questions, such as interstate commerce, international treaties, and pipeline jurisdiction

Judge Janet Neff agreed. She wrote that the court “will not accept the State’s invitation to undermine its previous decision [in a related case] and perpetuate a forum battle.”

"The extraordinary circumstances of this case, Plaintiff’s conduct, equity, and the Court’s regard for comprehensive and efficient administration of justice demand that this case remain in federal court."

In a statement, Enbridge spokesperson Ryan Duffy said the decision "properly keeps the Michigan Attorney General's lawsuit in federal court and underscores that the State's attempts to shut down this critical energy infrastructure raises important federal questions." The statement continued that Enbridge "looks forward to the prompt resolution of this case in federal court," and that the Canadian energy company will go forward with its plans to build a tunnel around a new pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac.

Environmental groups who advocate for shutting down Line 5 blasted the decision. They accused Enbridge of manipulating the judicial system because the case wasn’t going its way in state court.

“State-court defendants who have a plausible basis for federal jurisdiction are no longer obligated to seek removal within the statutory timelines established by Congress, but can now play their removal card at the time of their choosing," said Zach Welcker, legal director of the group For Love of Water. "This gives defendants nearly unfettered discretion to seek refuge in federal court when things are not going their way in state court."

“The decision, unfortunately, prevents the state court from hearing the merits of the case,” added Mike Shriberg of the National Wildlife Federation. “While we disagree with the ruling, it doesn’t change the fact that Line 5 is a ticking time bomb for the Great Lakes and needs to be shut down immediately. We can’t wait until the pipeline fails — and it will fail —to take action.”

Nessel's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ruling.

Editor's note: Enbridge is one of Michigan Radio's corporate sponsors.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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