In an unusual move, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, citing environmental concerns, is shutting down an underwater pipeline that carries oil to refineries in her state and Canada.
Pipeline operations normally fall under federal jurisdiction. Governor Whitmer, a Democrat, is acting under the state's public trust doctrine, which requires state authorities to protect the Great Lakes. The pipeline in question, known as Line 5, has been in operation since the 1950s.
The decision, announced on Friday, requires the pipeline operator Enbridge to cease operations on a specific section of Line 5 by May 2021, but it will have the effect of curtailing the entire pipeline, which runs between Superior, Wis., and Sarnia, Ontario.
"Enbridge has routinely refused to take action to protect our Great Lakes and the millions of Americans who depend on them for clean drinking water and good jobs," Governor Whitmer said in a statement.
Under the terms of an agreement with the state, Enbridge is required to maintain a multilayered coating on the pipeline to protect it from corrosion and to ensure that the pipeline has physical supports that are no more than 75 feet apart. The Michigan authorities found that the company had violated those terms and also failed to adequately protect the pipeline from damage from boat anchors.
While the line moves a relatively small quantity of oil -- about 540,000 barrels of light crude oil and liquid natural gas each day, compared with national average consumption of 20 million barrels of crude oil per day -- environmentalists applauded the move. While it was not clear that the legal strategy could easily be applied to other pipelines, they also said it was significant in that it focused on an older pipeline rather than a new project.
"I think this Line 5 decision is going to spark some interest in existing pipelines," said Jared Margolis, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. "I think, at some point, we do need to turn to pipelines that are in the ground that are dangerous, that are posing a serious risk."