Attorney General Dana Nessel fully expects a favorable outcome from the state’s lawsuit against Canadian oil company Enbridge, she told reporters in a year-end roundtable on Tuesday, which she is ‘optimistic’ will mean that the controversial Line 5 pipeline under the Mackinac Straits will be decommissioned by late spring.
Nessel also announced plans to pursue legal sanctions and other consequences against GOP-aligned lawyers who may have intentionally lied in their lawsuits to overturn Michigan’s election results.
She tipped off that the list will likely include Sidney Powell, a QAnon conspiracy theorist and former attorney for outgoing President Donald Trump, as well as official Trump campaign attorneys.
Line 5 case to ‘see some movement’ in 2021
Headed up by Nessel’s office, the state of Michigan’s legal battles against the powerful Canadian oil giant Enbridge have been ongoing since June 2019.
The most recent (and significant) movement on that front came in November, when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to issue a notice revoking and terminating the state’s 1953 easement with the oil company due to numerous violations of their 67-year-old agreement.
That notice also came with an order for Enbridge to decommission Line 5 by May 2021.
Nessel’s office then filed a new lawsuit on behalf of Whitmer and the DNR to enforce that notice. Enbridge has responded by mounting a federal case against the state to keep Line 5 in operation.
In response to an Advance question about how Nessel envisions the Line 5 situation to unfold within the next few years under Democratic President-elect Joe Biden’s administration, the attorney general said she “see[s] it unfolding fairly quickly.”
Nessel said that although she has not talked directly with anyone in the incoming Biden administration about Line 5, she sees Biden’s pick of former South Bend, Ind., Mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg to head up the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) as “a very good sign.”
Buttigieg publicly stated his opposition to Line 5 in February via Twitter. If confirmed, he would be overseeing the DOT-housed Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) — the main federal regulator of pipelines, and the agency that Enbridge believes has more authority over Line 5 than Michigan.
“I feel very confident in what the federal government’s position is going to be as it pertains to Line 5,” Nessel said Tuesday. “Not that that’s the end all be all — I certainly think that even if the Biden administration did not support our work in the state of Michigan, I think that separately we have very good state arguments.
“But now, with the governor having joined in with her request that the easement be terminated, and giving a pretty specific timeline as to when that should happen, I feel very, very confident that we will be successful in our effort to decommission Line 5. And my hope, my cautious optimism, is that that will occur in the timeline in which the governor has requested. Meaning, late spring of 2021,” Nessel continued.
She added that she does not believe Michigan would experience “all of the catastrophic consequences” that Enbridge and others in the oil and gas industry have claimed would befall the state if the pipeline is decommissioned.
Nessel also announced that her office will be objecting to Enbridge’s effort to move the case from a state court to a federal court.
“Enbridge will vigorously defend the validity of the easement and its right to operate the pipeline,” Enbridge spokesperson Ryan Duffy said in an email to the Advance Tuesday.
Duffy also pushed back against Nessel’s assertion that a Line 5 shutdown would not bring the severe consequences that Enbridge has warned about. He said there will be shortages of propane and price spikes if the pipeline were to be decommissioned.
Penalties for Trump lawyers trafficking in misinformation
Former Trump attorney Powell could be one of several pro-Trump lawyers soon facing legal sanction requests and other complaints by Nessel’s office, for what Nessel characterized as “what we believe to be an intentional misrepresentation” of facts in recent lawsuits that attempted to overturn Michigan’s election results.
“In some of these cases, absolutely we will be asking for sanctions, we’ll be asking for court costs and attorney’s fees,” Nessel said.
For some of the most egregious cases — “where we know for a fact there were intentional misrepresentations” presented to the court – Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson will be filing misconduct complaints with the attorney grievance commission.
Attorneys found to have intentionally lied in their fillings could face disbarment.
As for other cases in question that are still pending, Nessel’s office will likely make similar requests after those cases have been officially closed.
Besides Powell, other lawyers possibly culpable could include Matthew DePerno, who filed a case challenging the Antrim County results and made a number of unfounded accusations and false statements on television.
Complaints regarding out-of-state attorneys would need to be made to appropriate state bars.
Nessel said the Trump administration has done much in the last four years to undermine public institutions, but among the “most troubling” has been his undermining of the profession of attorneys.
“You shouldn’t get to make flagrant misrepresentations to the court that you know aren’t true, and have no accountability in regard to your law license,” Nessel said.
“I think we need to go back to a time where you can trust that an attorney is making an accurate and truthful representation to the court — because if they don’t, then they won’t be able to practice law anymore.”