Judge says oil pipeline crossing tribal land must shut down within three years

 June 20, 2023

A federal judge made headlines this week when he ordered an oil pipeline that crosses tribal land to be shut down. 

According to The Hill, that ruling came on Monday from U.S. District Judge William Conley, who was appointed by President Barack Obama.

Pipeline must close within three years

At issue is the Line 5 pipeline which is owned by the Canadian oil company Enbridge and traverses territory belonging to Wisconsin's Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

The Bad River Band contends that Enbridge's pipeline presents an unacceptable environmental hazard given how erosion of the Bad River's banks has resulted in just 15 feet of land separating it from the water's edge.

While Conley rejected a request that the pipeline be shut down immediately, he did order that it be closed within three years.

"The court has been and still is wary of permanently shutting down the pipeline without providing adequate time for market adjustments, and hopefully, even for Enbridge to complete a proposed reroute of Line 5, which Enbridge represents would likely take 5 years for permitting and a turnkey bypass to be put in place," The Hill quoted Conley as saying in his ruling.

Tribal chairman says ruling "is not a cause for unqualified celebration"

"However, Enbridge has now had 10 years since losing its rights of way, including four years of litigating, to move its bypass forward," the judge continued.

"Considering all the evidence, the court cannot countenance an indefinite delay or even justify what would amount to a five-year forced easement with little realistic prospect of a reroute proceeding even then. Nevertheless, the court will give Enbridge an additional three years to complete a reroute," he concluded.

Mike Wiggins serves as chairman of the Bad River Band, and he declared in a statement that Conley's ruling was only a partial success.

"Band’s victory is not a cause for unqualified celebration. We are under no illusion that Enbridge will do the right thing, " Wiggins insisted.

"We expect them to fight this order with all of their corporate might. This is just one step in protecting our people and water," the chairman added.

Enbridge plans to appeal

Meanwhile, Enbridge provided a statement of its own to The Hill explaining that it plans to file an appeal of Conley's decision.

"While Enbridge agrees with the Court’s decision to reject the Band’s argument that Line 5 must immediately shut down, the company disagrees with several aspects of the Court’s orders, including that Enbridge is in trespass, and that Line 5 must cease operations on the Bad River Reservation within three years," it read.

"Enbridge is weighing all of its options, including requesting a stay of the judge’s decision while an appeal is heard," they added.

" A free people [claim] their rights, as derived from the laws of nature."
Thomas Jefferson
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