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Wednesday, April 10, 2024


Anna Marie Zorn ( or Timna Axel (

Line 5 Pipeline: DOJ Draws Rebuke from Green Groups, Businesses

Biden administration fails to defend Tribal sovereignty in amicus brief

Chicago, IL – The US Department of Justice (DOJ) has weighed in for the first time on a legal challenge brought by a Wisconsin-based Tribal Nation against Enbridge, a Canadian corporation whose dangerous and outdated Line 5 oil pipeline has been trespassing on the reservation of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa for more than a decade. The brief asserts that Enbridge is trespassing illegally on Tribal lands and urges the court to penalize Enbridge more for its trespass. But the brief does not call for an end to the trespass, and it goes so far as to suggest that the courts could allow Enbridge to continue trespassing indefinitely.

The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues has criticized Canada for trampling Indigenous rights to protect Line 5 and other fossil fuel interests, and a UN international human rights expert has recommended that the US and Canada shut it down.

In a surprising turn of events, the BAD RIVER documentary extended its theatrical run to a fifth week due to high demand after it was initially expected to run for just one week. Half of the box office ticket sales go directly to the Bad River Band.

Environmental advocates are weighing in on the DOJs filing:

“We are disappointed that the interests of Canada-owned Enbridge were prioritized over the Bad River Band's sovereignty– failing to respect long-standing treaty rights. We’ll continue to stand in solidarity with the Bad River Band and fight for Line 5 to be permanently decommissioned,” said Natalie Cook, Senior Field Organizer, Sierra Club.

"The Department of Justice did not fully advocate for Tribal sovereignty nor environmental protection, and we are deeply concerned by the potential ramifications of the Administration's brief. The federal government’s position may be accurate on the issue of trespass, but it is not in line with the Administration’s commitments to Tribal sovereignty and environmental justice, and we are disappointed that this decision promotes the corporate well-being of a fossil fuel company over the people and wildlife of the Great Lakes. We continue to support the Bad River Band as they fight to remove Enbridge's ticking time bomb from their land," said Mustafa Santiago Ali, executive vice president of the National Wildlife Federation.

“The Environmental Law & Policy Center is disappointed the US government chose not to fully support the Bad River Band over the federal district court’s decision that Enbridge’s oil pipeline must stop trespassing on the Band’s Tribal lands by June 2026,” said Environmental Law & Policy Center Executive Director Howard Learner.

“Continuing to allow Enbridge to run a dangerous tar sands oil pipeline in trespass on the Bad River Band’s reservation is a direct threat to the Band’s Tribal sovereignty and rights, despite recognition of these principles by the United States. Line 5 must be shut down. A catastrophic spill from this aging pipeline would destroy sites that are critical to the Band's culture and heritage, and would devastate the Great Lakes with disastrous consequences for the entire region,” said Emily Park, Co-Executive Director for 350 Wisconsin.

“The Line 5 pipeline threatens the livelihoods of millions of people who rely on Lake Michigan for drinking water, recreation and jobs. We will stand with Bad River to protect the Great Lakes watersheds and we urge the Biden administration to do everything in its power to support Tribal sovereignty and protect the Great Lakes,” said Jason Wilhite, activism team leader at Patagonia’s Fulton Market store in Chicago.

"The prosperity of our regional economy hinges on our healthy Great Lakes. Today's brief from the DOJ threatens our ability to maintain our freshwater way of life and state and tribal sovereignty across our nation. This foreign oil company has no regard for our laws, our lakes, or our livelihoods. We are deeply disappointed to not see a stronger response from the Biden Administration and encourage stronger intervention on behalf of Midwest voters,” said Bob Sutherland, Co-Chair of the Great Lakes Business Network and President of Cherry Republic.

“Enbridge Energy has proven time and again that it cannot be trusted to safely operate and maintain the Line 5 oil pipeline, which is a ticking time bomb in our Great Lakes. It is disappointing that the Bad River Band was not fully supported in their position to stop Enbridge from illegally trespassing on their land, but we will continue to advocate for a full shutdown of Line 5 to protect tribal rights and the health of our Great Lakes,” said Bentley Johnson, federal government affairs director for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.

"Given the paramount sovereign interests of the tribe, Enbridge’s trespass on the Bad River Band must end immediately. To this end, we are dismayed that the US government did not unequivocally support the Bad River Band’s right to immediately end Enbridge’s illegal trespass and prevent a catastrophic oil spill from Line 5.” said, Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director, For Love of Water (FLOW).

“Not only are we in an escalating climate crisis, we are also facing a water crisis. We cannot risk poisoning the Great Lakes, which hold one-fifth of the world’s surface freshwater. This DOJ filing is disappointing and continues to enable the violation of Indigenous rights and sovereignty. At this critical time, it is necessary to listen to Indigenous leadership, protect water, and end the expansion of fossil fuels. We will continue to stand in solidarity with the Bad River Band, and to urge the courts to shutdown Line 5 permanently for people and planet," said Osprey Orielle Lake, Executive Director of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN).

“DOJ failed to fully support tribal sovereignty and eliminate the threat that Enbridge poses to 21% of the world’s fresh surface water. We will not stop working to protect our communities and the $6 trillion-dollar regional economy that depends upon the Great Lakes. Independent experts and Enbridge’s own attorneys confirm that an orderly shutdown is possible in a matter of months without price shocks or supply shortages in the region. So, today’s filing simply lacks courage, common sense, or reasonable foresight,” said Ashley Rudzinski, Climate and Environment Program Director for Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities.

Line 5 is a dangerous and outdated 645-mile pipeline that transports up to 23 million gallons of crude oil and natural gas liquids each day. Since 2013, Enbridge has earned over $1 billion by knowingly trespassing on the Bad River Band’s reservation, where there are only 11 feet of bank remaining between the pipeline and the current of the Bad River at its narrowest point. Last June, a federal court ruled Line 5 a “public nuisance” with an imminent threat of rupture that could contaminate the Band’s drinking water, poison plants and wildlife, and devastate the region’s economy. However, the order allows the pipeline to continue operating in trespass until June of 2026.

Both sides are now appealing before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which called on the US government to end its silence and formally weigh in on the issue.

Line 5 Fact Sheet:



The Women's Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International - @WECAN_INTL


The Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International is a 501(c)3 and solutions-based organization established to engage women worldwide in policy advocacy, on-the-ground projects, trainings, and movement building for global climate justice.

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