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UPDATE 2-Michigan drops federal case against Enbridge pipeline to clear way for state court case

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  • CL=F
  • ENB

(Adds details, statement from environmentalists)

By Nia Williams

CALGARY, Alberta, Nov 30 (Reuters) - Michigan's governor on Tuesday said she will dismiss her lawsuit against Enbridge Inc's Line 5 oil pipeline in federal court, clearing the way for the Midwestern state's attorney general to pursue a separate case in state court.

The move is a welcome development for Enbridge in one part of the long-running battle over Line 5, but Governor Gretchen Whitmer made it clear she will continue to fight against the 68-year-old oil pipeline.

Line 5 delivers 540,000 barrels per day of crude and refined products from Superior, Wisconsin, to Sarnia, Ontario, via Michigan. An underwater section of the line runs along the lakebed of the Straits of Mackinac connecting lakes Huron and Michigan and environmentalists are concerned the aging line could rupture and leak into the Great Lakes.

Whitmer ordered Enbridge to shut down the pipeline by May this year, which the Canadian company ignored. The governor also filed a lawsuit against Enbridge to enforce the order, but suffered a setback earlier this month when a judge ruled the case would be heard in federal court.

In a statement, Whitmer said dismissing the federal case clears the way for a separate lawsuit filed by Attorney General Dana Nessel to go forward in state court. That attorney general's lawsuit was originally filed in June 2019, but was paused while the governor's lawsuit, filed in 2020, proceeded.

"I believe the people of Michigan, and our state courts, should have the final say on whether this oil company should continue pumping 23 million gallons of crude oil through the Straits of Mackinac every day," Whitmer said.

Dropping the federal case should speed up the attorney general's state court case, said environmental group FLOW, which described Michigan's move as a "strategic step."

"The state's legal fight and the citizen-led movement to protect the Great Lakes, jobs, and a way of life continue full speed ahead," said FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood.

Calgary-based Enbridge said it is pleased by Michigan's decision to drop the federal lawsuit.

Earlier this year the Canadian government waded into the dispute by intervening in the court case in support of Enbridge, and last month invoked a 1977 pipeline treaty with the United States to trigger negotiations between Ottawa and Washington over the pipeline's fate.

Government officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Nia Williams; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Andrea Ricci)

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