Could new federal law make Line 5 legal?

Editor’s note: On Saturday, Feb. 23, soon after this story ran, a new law was signed in the US House of Representatives that will allow coastal states to challenge the environmental impact of oil pipelines and try to limit their adverse impacts. The new law, however, does not apply to Line 5. Line 5 will remain exempt from this pending legal challenge, and an official from Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office released a statement Sunday indicating that instead of pursuing the legal challenge, they’ll focus on pursuing a state court case. CNN’s Jordan Fabian has more on the push for new federal laws and the attempts to throw a wrench in the plans for Line 5.

Nearly one week after suing the Trump administration, the Obama-era Justice Department, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) over the potential environmental impact of a controversial oil pipeline project, Michigan officials said they’ll move forward with an appeal of an official letter approving the pipeline project, instead of launching a federal lawsuit to challenge the decisions, the Michigan attorney general’s office announced Sunday.

In an internal review, all attorneys who filed the original lawsuit will no longer be required to pursue the challenge in federal court, Mich. officials said. While the original lawsuit was trying to void an approval of the pipeline, the review determined that the case has “fallen upon the ground.” The review also said that the actions of the Obama-era Department of Justice led the lawsuit to fail.

“What we are doing is refocusing our efforts to the state level and staying focused on the state challenge to the decision in January, which would not be possible if we had pursued it in federal court,” said Dan McNamara, a spokesman for Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican. “Since our strategy and legal strategy relied on legal advice received in the last administration, we are pulling the attorneys from the lawsuit so we can evaluate and refocus our efforts on the appeal.”

Schuette and several other state attorneys have said they hope federal approval of the pipeline will raise red flags for the Trump administration, whose Energy Department earlier this month approved a permit to temporarily extend the life of the Keystone XL pipeline. In addition, a number of state attorneys general and environmental activists — led by a former attorney general from Massachusetts — announced last week plans to file a federal lawsuit to overturn approval of the project.

The line runs approximately 400 miles from northern Minnesota to Port Huron, which connects Lake Michigan with Lake Huron, and is the longest single pipeline system in the United States. It is operated by Enbridge Inc.

The Line 5 replacement project is intended to replace two sections of the pipeline, and the $2.3 billion project will pump substantially more oil and extend the pipeline’s lifetime by over two decades. The project will run within the boundaries of a state law that allows the state of Michigan to oversee and monitor any pipeline expansion or repair, as long as a crossing is below an ecological hazard zone.

In January, the Trump administration approved a temporary permit allowing the project, and announced last week that it would not appeal the authorization.

Read here: The Michigan Pipeline Challenge

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