William Crawford says all parties to environmental suit have an opportunity to present evidence, making case against Enbridge too complex for state circuit
A Michigan judge has rejected an attempt by the state’s attorney general to rush through a decision over whether to move an environmental lawsuit against Enbridge Inc to state court.
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The decision by William Crawford comes after Brian Calhoun, an outspoken critic of the company, sued Michigan’s attorney general, Dana Nessel, for convening a special committee and delaying the proceedings, which are against Michigan law.
Calhoun is challenging whether the state violated its own rules when it formed the committee, convened an investigative panel and made promises about resolving the matter. He said the committee was independent and that it was against the law to extend the lawsuit in a new venue.
Calhoun said at a hearing in Lansing on Tuesday that everything about the case is “fuzzy” and “creates the appearance of impropriety” and is too complex to place before a judge in trial court in Detroit.
“We know that every state of the United States, Michigan or not, has the authority to hold Enbridge accountable for their violations of the law,” Calhoun said.
Michigan’s environmental department had sought to intervene in the lawsuit against Enbridge and become the lead party on the case but the state court dismissed that request.
Calhoun appealed to the Michigan supreme court, which agreed to hear the case. Crawford, a circuit judge in the southern Michigan county of Saginaw, said at a hearing last month that he would not allow the attorney general’s appearance on the case to give Calhoun an unfair advantage.
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The case now returns to the Oakland County circuit court in Pontiac, about 40 miles (64km) southwest of Detroit.
“We disagree with Judge Crawford’s ruling,” said Michael Thom, a spokesman for Nessel. “Judge Crawford’s thoughtful decision has only validated what Michigan taxpayers have long known: Judge [James] Moody’s report is vital in moving this case forward.”
Nessel, a Democrat, is planning to hold a news conference in her Detroit office later on Tuesday.
Calhoun and Citizens for Safe Pipelines, a coalition of environmental groups, want to force Enbridge to conduct a full analysis of the risks of leaks or ruptures and have proposed a moratorium on new infrastructure that crosses the Straits of Mackinac, a vital shipping lane between Michigan and Canada.
The company’s pipeline system, which started shipping crude oil from Canada in 1953, runs more than 1,000 miles (1,610km) from Superior, Wisconsin, to Sarnia, Ontario.
Michigan’s attorney general hired a special counsel in October to review Moody’s report, which concluded that Enbridge’s Line 5 was in appropriate condition and posed no imminent threat to safety, in a move to halt the lawsuit.