Updated, 8:42 p.m., with Chatfield’s comments
Republican leaders are considering their options — and some are vowing action — as Michigan’s attorney general and governor attempt to halt construction of a new Enbridge oil pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac.
On Thursday afternoon, Attorney General Dana Nessel issued her first opinion that a 2018 Lame Duck law, which created a new state authority overseeing Enbridge’s plan, was unconstitutional. A spokeswoman for state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) told the Michigan Advance that the leader is “reviewing options” when asked if he intended for the Senate to challenge the opinion.
Shortly after Nessel’s opinion, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive directive* barring state departments from taking any actions that might aid Enbridge’s plan to replace Line 5 with a new buried line.
The law created the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority (MSCA) through Public Act 359. The MSCA would oversee the construction of a new pipeline that would be buried 100 feet beneath the Straits of Mackinac.
Nessel argued in her legal opinion that the law is unconstitutional because its content does not match the title of the law. But Republicans — or, possibly, Enbridge — are expected to challenge that opinion.
“An AG opinion is exactly that, an opinion. It’s not binding. It’s not final. And it’s certainly not without cause to challenge,” Shirkey said in a statement. “The Senate will pursue its options in order to advance the very important work and purpose of the energy tunnel. This is the fastest, safest, and most economical long-term solution for Michigan. It’s very important to our economy.”
The GOP-led Legislature passed the law before Whitmer and Nessel took office. Both pledged during their 2018 campaigns to shut down Line 5.
Former Gov. Rick Snyder, a fellow Republican, had made a deal between the Canadian energy company and the state one of his top priorities during his final days in office.
The Michigan Chamber of Commerce, a powerful pro-business lobby, previously filed a legal brief with Nessel’s office arguing that the law does not violate the Constitution.
State House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) did not immediately indicate in a statement issued by his office what actions he might pursue, but called upon Whitmer and Nessel to approve the project.
“Hundreds of thousands of people rely on the line to heat their homes and survive, and we all rely on the Great Lakes for our economy and our way of life,” Chatfield said. “It is well past time to put aside political talking points and campaign rhetoric and just do the right thing. This administration needs to protect the people of our state, secure our critical Mackinac Straits and approve the tunnel project immediately.”*
State Rep. Triston Cole (R-Mancelona) bashed Nessel’s opinion in a statement.
“This is an opinion that hits rural Northern Michigan families the hardest. Construction of a $500 million multi-use utility tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac meant good-paying jobs for Northern Michigan workers,” Cole said. “It would have lowered their out-of-control energy rates. Now, this flimsy legal opinion has endangered those jobs and the rate relief needed by rural families.
“To suggest that lawmakers weren’t clear on the details of the plan they voted for last December is outrageous,” he continued. “I will not allow the well-being of hardworking Michiganders to be put in jeopardy while the attorney general splits legal hairs for political brownie points. This is more of the same blatant disregard for the needs of Michigan families outside of the state’s major cities.
“I will not stand for it,” he continued. “I will defend jobs and rate relief for Northern Michigan families.”