Michigan tribes send letter to Biden asking him to back Line 5 shutdown

click to enlarge President Joe Biden. - BiksuTong / Shutterstock.com
BiksuTong / Shutterstock.com
President Joe Biden.

All 12 federally recognized tribes in Michigan sent a letter to President Joe Biden and his administration Friday, urging him to lend strong support to the state’s effort to shut down the controversial, 78-year-old Line 5 oil pipeline owned by Canadian company Enbridge.

“The Governor, the Attorney General, and our Tribal Nations need your Administration’s help,” the letter reads. “… During your campaign, you promised that you would heed our concerns and act to protect our fundamental interests.

“We view Line 5 as an existential threat to our treaty-protected rights, resources, and fundamental way of life as Anishinaabe people of the Great Lakes.”

The 12 tribes — the Bay Mills Indian Community (BMIC), Grand Traverse Bay of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Hannahville Indian Community, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, Match-e-be-nash-she-wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians (Gun Lake Tribe), Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi Indians, Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan and Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians — make up the Three Fires Confederacy of the Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi.

All are publicly opposed to Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline and its proposed tunnel-enclosed replacement in the Straits of Mackinac.

BMIC President Whitney Gravelle led the effort. The letter was also sent to a list of top state and federal officials, including: U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and his assistant attorneys general; U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland; U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken; Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Regan; Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel; Gov. Gretchen Whitmer; U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) and Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.); U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm; U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and more.

Whitmer and Nessel are currently locked in several court battles with Enbridge to shut down the pipeline, all but one of which are on pause right now as a federal judge deliberates if litigation should be heard in state or federal court. Whitmer revoked and terminated Enbridge’s easement with the state last fall and ordered a Line 5 shutdown by the spring, which the company is resisting.

In her notice of revocation and termination, Whitmer cited treaty rights and the concerns of Indigenous citizens in the state as one of the main reasons to shut down the pipeline. She specifically mentioned the 1836 Treaty of Washington, which ceded Ojibwe and Odawa lands in Michigan in exchange for fishing, hunting and gathering rights on the treaty territory.

Biden has so far been silent on the issue of Line 5. It is not clear whether he is supportive of Whitmer’s attempts to shut it down, although the two are close allies.

“In contrast to Canada’s vocal support of Enbridge, and despite what we understand to be the Governor’s requests for help, your Administration has thus far been silent regarding Line 5,” the tribes write. “The juxtaposition could not be more stark and could well be apparent to the federal judge considering the matter.”

The tribes’ letter makes three main asks of Biden.

The first is for the president to file an official statement of interest via the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) affirming the validity of Whitmer’s May 12 shutdown order, which Enbridge has so far to comply with until Whitmer wins a court order. The tribes also ask that his statement of interest urge a speedy judicial resolution of challenges to the shutdown order.

“The Justice Department’s voice carries great weight … Your Administration should not remain silent here,” the letter reads.

The second ask is for Biden to seriously consider revocation of the 1991 Presidential Permit that allows the pipeline to operate. Citing Enbridge’s repeated safety violations over the years and their attempts to thwart Whitmer’s shutdown order, the tribes say that this consideration should be taken in the face of Enbridge’s “lawless action.”

Lastly, the tribal nations request that Biden provide them with a seat at the negotiating table. Specifically, they ask to be able to participate in any negotiations with Canada regarding the pipeline with a single designated representative.

“We possess rights and interests in the integrity of the Great Lakes that date back to time immemorial, and that are protected by solemn treaties with the United States long predating the agreement Canada rests on,” the letter reads.

In early October, Canada signaled that it had formally invoked dispute settlement mechanisms in its 1977 Treaty with the United States that deals with pipelines. The country’s attempts to pause court proceedings in State of Michigan v Enbridge until treaty talks with officials from both countries are complete have so far been unsuccessful.

A Biden administration official did not comment directly on the letter in an email on Friday, but said they “expect that both the U.S. and Canada will engage constructively in [the 1977 Treaty] negotiations.

“In addition to being one of our closest allies, Canada remains a key U.S. partner in energy trade as well as efforts to address climate change and protect the environment,” the official said.

Enbridge spokesperson Ryan Duffy also did not comment directly on the letter. He said the company supports the tribes’ sovereignty and treaty rights, the federal government upholding those treaty rights, the restoration of treaty rights and the acknowledgment of historical reservation boundaries.

“There are millions of people and thousands of businesses on both sides of the border who are dependent on Line 5 to provide the fuel they need for heating, manufacturing, airplanes, roads and automobiles. Line 5 is vital energy infrastructure on a daily basis to Michigan, four other states and Canada’s two largest provinces,” Duffy said.

However, the anti-Line 5 Oil & Water Don’t Mix coalition is “actively supportive” of the letter, said spokesman David Holtz. National Wildlife Federation (NWF) Great Lakes Regional Executive Director Mike Shriberg told the Advance that the letter is “powerful and clear” and “represents a significant escalation of the asks in front of Biden.”

“Canada is attempting to hijack tribal treaty rights, United States and Michigan sovereignty and the U.S. courts on behalf of Enbridge,” Holtz said Friday. “President Biden cannot remain silent while Canada and Enbridge put Michigan and the Great Lakes at risk. The president should support Gov. Whitmer and reject Canada’s attempt to delay the orderly decommissioning of Line 5.”

This article was originally published by Michigan Advance. It is republished here with permission.

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