Biden Administration fails to defend tribal sovereignty in amicus brief, puts Wisconsin's waters at risk

Apr 11, 2024

MADISON – Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) weighed in for the first time on a legal challenge brought by the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa against Enbridge, a Canadian corporation whose Line 5 oil pipeline has been trespassing on the Band’s reservation for more than a decade.

Enbridge’s Line 5 is an outdated pipeline originally permitted in 1953 without the consent of the Tribe and before the establishment of bedrock environmental protections. At 71 years old – long past its intended operational lifespan – Line 5 poses a catastrophic risk to the water, natural areas, farmland, and Lake Superior, which holds 10 percent of the freshwater on the planet.

While the DOJ brief asserts that Enbridge is trespassing illegally on Tribal lands and urges the court to penalize Enbridge more for its trespass, the brief does not call for an end to the trespass. It goes so far as to suggest that the courts could allow Enbridge to continue trespassing indefinitely. As the pipeline continues to corrode and crack, experts argue that Line 5 is a ticking time bomb for Wisconsin and the Great Lakes region. The DOJ brief does not address any of the long-term concerns with this pipeline.

Wisconsin environmental advocates responded to the DOJ’s filing:

"We have applauded the Biden Administration's efforts to increase clean energy investments and are proud to support those efforts,” said Kerry Schumann, executive director, Wisconsin Conservation Voters. “However, we also need President Biden to be strong on protecting our communities from fossil fuel pipelines, especially Line 5, which trespasses on the Bad River Band's land. We encourage the Biden Administration to carefully look at Enbridge's terrible track record and work to permanently decommission Line 5."

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

“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,” said Emily Park, co-executive director, 350 Wisconsin. “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.”

For more information

Ryan Billingham, Communications Director, Wisconsin Conservation Voters, 608-208-1129 (office), 608-213-6972 (mobile/text), or