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‘Draconian’ Line 5 shutdown must be avoided with ‘imperfect’ alternatives: U.S. judge

A judge in Wisconsin is ordering Enbridge Inc. and an Indigenous band to confer about “imperfect” alternatives to shutting down the cross-border Line 5 pipeline.

District Court Judge William Conley calls the prospect of shutting off the line “draconian” and wants Enbridge and the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa to explore other options.

Conley also rejects outright Enbridge’s request that the band be ordered to allow the company access to its tribal lands in order to perform inspections and maintenance on the line.

He says the trial evidence has not shown that the band is violating a 1977 bilateral treaty on pipelines by rejecting the company’s proposals to fortify the line, which crosses their territory in Wisconsin.

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In September, Conley denied Bad River’s motion for a summary judgment that would have shut down the pipeline, citing potential economic and foreign policy implications.

Today’s ruling calls on both sides to meet before Dec. 17 to find a solution that would mitigate the risk of a near-term spill without closing the pipeline down.

Read more: Michigan plans Line 5 appeal after Canada invokes treaty to move case out of court

The band has yet to propose a potential solution that would not require a total shutdown, Conley writes, a prospect he describes as “draconian injunctive remedies.”

“The court must consider what alternative steps, however imperfect (particularly in the longer run), would reduce the risk of an oil spill in the near term,” the decision reads.

If possible, those steps should also preserve the operation of Line 5 “for those areas of the United States and Canada that currently depend on it.”