National Wildlife Federation to Sue Pipeline Safety Administration to Protect Communities, Wildlife from Oil Spill in the Great Lakes
ANN ABOR, MICH. (February 22, 2016)—The National Wildlife Federation today officially sent a notice of intent to sue the federal agency largely responsible for overseeing oil pipeline safety.
The notice asserts that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) had no authority to authorize the transport of oil through pipelines that run through the Straits of Mackinac and navigable waters in Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas. PHMSA also incorrectly authorized the transport of oil through pipelines on land without assessing the impacts on the environment, fish, and wildlife, including the impacts on endangered and threatened species, such as the Piping Plover and Kirtland’s Warbler.
“We are taking action today to help protect people, communities, wildlife, and the Great Lakes from an oil disaster.” - Mike Shriberg, the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes regional executive director
The National Wildlife Federation is asking PHMSA to comply with the law within 60 days by fully assessing and publicly disclosing the environmental impacts of the terrestrial sections of the controversial pipelines, known as Line 5, in consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The National Wildlife Federation is further asking PHMSA to revoke its approval of oil spill response plans for the sections of Line 5 where it runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac and other navigable waters in Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas on its pathway from Superior, Wisconsin to Sarnia, Ontario.
The legal action is the latest effort by conservation groups, businesses, and communities to protect the state’s environment and economy from another oil spill disaster. Enbridge Energy, the company which operates Line 5, is responsible for the 2010 oil disaster near Marshall, Mich., which dumped more than 800,000 gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River. That catastrophe remains the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history.
“We are taking action today to help protect people, communities, wildlife, and the Great Lakes from an oil disaster,” said Mike Shriberg, the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes regional executive director. “Michigan is home to the largest inland oil disaster in U.S. history, and we need to make sure that we never experience that again.”
By law, pipeline operators can transport oil only if they have oil spill response plans that are approved by the authorized federal official or agency. PHMSA violated several laws in approving Enbridge Energy’s oil spill response plans for Line 5 including:
- The National Environmental Policy Act, which requires PHMSA to assess impacts on the environment, including shorelines, beaches, fish, and wildlife. The agency failed to conduct an environmental impact assessment.
- The Endangered Species Act, which mandates that PHMSA assess impacts on endangered or threatened fish and wildlife. The agency failed to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in assessing impacts to these species.
- The Oil Pollution Act, because PHMSA lacked the authority to approve oil spill response plans for sections of Line 5 where it runs through the Straits of Mackinac and other navigable waters in Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas. Under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, only the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation is authorized to approve oil spill response plans for pipelines running in, on, or under inland navigable waters—not PHMSA.
“An oil spill, and a worst-case discharge of oil in particular, may significantly harm if not destroy the unique cultural and natural resources in the shadow of Line 5,” the National Wildlife Federation’s filing states. “So, too, a spill may significantly impact or destroy the bountiful fish and wildlife, as well as the recreation and tourism the ecological resources in the area support.”