US court decision on Enbridge spill plans a political decision, not a science-based one: Wilton

Mike Wilton

DOMINION BAY – A decision made in a United States federal court last week, upholding Enbridge’s spill plans in the Great Lakes, is more of a political decision rather than a science-based one, in the opinion of one Island resident.

“I’m certainly not in favour of the court decision,” stated Mike Wilton, of Dominion Bay. “The thing that bothers me is the US court system seems to have made a decision here and in others based on politics instead of a fair, science-based conclusion. With any decision, whether it be a Democrat or a Republican making the decision, it certainly appears they are told they had better follow the party line.” 

“Unfortunately, decisions like these seem to be politically based,” continued Mr. Wilton, noting in this federal US court decision, the judge is Republican. “It is not a good trend when decisions are being made on a political basis rather than based on science.”
The Washington Post reported on June 9 that the US federal court upheld Enbridge’s Great Lakes spill plans. The company has produced legally acceptable plans for dealing with a potential spill from oil pipelines that cross the Straits of Mackinac, the federal appeals court ruled. 

A panel of the Sixth US Circuit Court of Appeals last week over-ruled a district judge who had agreed with an environmental group that the pipeline company’s plans failed to adequately consider potential harm to fish and wildlife in that area.

Enbridge, a Canadian company based in Calgary, developed the strategy as required under the Clean Water Act in case of failure of its Line 5. The pipeline carries oil and natural gas liquids used in propane from Superior, Wisconsin, to Sarnia, Ontario.

There is a 6.4-kilometre segment that divides into two pipes that lie across the bottom of the straits, which connect Lakes Huron and Michigan.

As was presented in court, Enbridge says the 67-year-old segment has never leaked and remains in good condition. But the company plans to build a replacement in a tunnel that would be drilled through bedrock beneath the straits, reported the Post.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer is a critic of Line 5, which state Attorney General Dana Nessel is seeking to shut down in a lawsuit pending in state court. They agree with environmental groups that the pipelines post unacceptable danger.

Enbridge submitted two spill response plans in the past five years, both approved by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

The National Wildlife Federation sued Enbridge, saying the company did not make sure that approval of the plans would not jeopardize fish or wildlife listed under the Endangered Species Act; and that the agency did not prepare an environmental impact statement as required. 

District Judge Mark Goldsmith ordered the pipeline administration to comply with both laws.

However, in court on June 5, in a 2-1 ruling the federal appeals panel said the agency could not consider them because the Clean Water Act has specific criteria by which to evaluate the correctness of the plans, reported the Post. Judge Gilbert Merritt said the majority had taken “an extremely narrow view” of the discretion that agencies have to consider additional laws protecting natural resources.

Enbridge’s plans are based on consultation with numerous experts and government agencies in the US and Canada, including the Environmental Protection Agency, spokesman Ryan Duffy said in a release statement. “Enbridge has developed and implements very thoughtful and thorough emergency response plans to respond to any size of a release from Line 5, including any release at water crossing made by Line 5, such as at the Straits,” he said. “Our policies and procedures demand that Enbridge pipelines and associated facilities are operated safely.”

“The decision reached in court I guess means it (Enbridge) has been given the go ahead to go full speed ahead, and damn the torpedoes,” added Mr. Wilton.