It’s not really over at Standing Rock
FORT YATES, N.D. — Supporters of the Standing Rock Sioux rejoiced when the Army announced it would not allow construction of the final piece of the Dakota Access pipeline. That perhaps sounded like a definitive answer after months of protests, but insiders from the tribe and their allies knew that the fight over the pipeline remains far from over.
Opponents of the pipeline aren’t even necessarily in agreement about exactly what the Army decided.
The most optimistic interpretation comes from the attorney representing the Standing Rock Sioux. Jan Hasselman can envision the Army allowing the pipeline to proceed only if it were rerouted away from the tribe’s reservation.
“It would be surprising to say the least” if the disputed section gets built beneath Lake Oahe, Hasselman said. The tribe’s members fear a leaky pipeline could contaminate their water source, and they contend it violates an 1851 federal treaty.
Indeed, Sunday’s statement from the Army sounds clear. The Department of the Army said it “will not approve an easement that would allow the proposed Dakota Access pipeline to cross under Lake Oahe in North Dakota,” Army Assistant Secretary Jo-Ellen Darcy said Sunday.
But there are a few reasons for pause. A key tangible in the fate of the pipeline will be the change in administration. President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team indicated this week that he supports completing Energy Transfer Partners’ pipeline and will review it once in office next month.
Sierra Club lawyer Doug Hayes doesn’t believe the Army’s statement completely ruled out using this route favored by the developer. Other options will be considered while the Army Corps of Engineers conducts an extensive study, called an environmental impact statement, or EIS.
Hayes said it’s conceivable officials could still pick Lake Oahe as the best course.
“Everything remains unclear as far as scope, process and timing,” Hayes said of the environmental impact statement. “To me, that indicates that that crossing is still an option.”
Environmentalists who oppose the entire 1,172-mile project will favor an EIS that examines more than just the Lake Oahe section. The wider scope may look at other federal waterway crossings and grasslands and may uncover more potential risks that could cripple the developers’ plans. Energy Transfer Partners is likely to seek an EIS that just examines the small area around Lake Oahe, according to Hayes.
The Army Corps normally accepts public comments before setting the scope of an environmental impact study. The corps didn’t respond to The Huffington Post’s inquiries for clarity on the issue.
Thousands of pipeline opponents have flocked to the area, often camping in tents, tipis and other simple lodgings for weeks or months. More than 500 activists, calling themselves water protectors, have been arrested in Morton County during repeated confrontations with law enforcement.
Some of the water protectors vow to keep up their resistance on federal land through the bitter cold, because they don’t believe the Army’s ruling will hold off Energy Transfer Partners.
“That’s just a ploy. It’s not going to do anything to stop the corporation,” said protester Billy McMaster, 49, of Boise. “They’re just going to go ahead and do it, and then as soon as Trump comes in, it’s just going to be a wash because he’s just going to come in and pull his muscle and his might and push us out.”
Before the EIS gets sorted out — a process that takes roughly six months to one year — the pipeline designed to carry up to 570,000 barrels of oil per day could be affected by court challenges.
First up is a conference in a Washington federal court on Friday involving the developer and the Sioux tribe. After vowing to complete the pipeline despite the Army’s decision, Energy Transfer Partners on Monday filed court documents asking a judge for permission to build under the pivotal Lake Oahe reservoir.
The company said in court documents filed Monday that the Army wrongly withheld the easement because it succumbed to “political pressure” and violence orchestrated by protesters, according to Reuters.
“We don’t think much of that [argument], and we don’t think the government will think much of it either,” said Hasselman, an attorney representing the Standing Rock Sioux.
A decision is unlikely Friday, but Energy Transfer Partners expects to prevail.
“For more than three years now, Dakota Access Pipeline has done nothing but play by the rules,” the company and Sunoco Logistics Partner said in a joint statement Sunday. “As stated all along, ETP and SXL are fully committed to ensuring that this vital project is brought to completion and fully expect to complete construction of the pipeline without any additional rerouting in and around Lake Oahe. Nothing this Administration has done… changes that in any way.”
The delays are eating into the company’s coffers and have cost $450 million, according to documents cited by The Wall Street Journal.
The dispute over the pipeline in North Dakota has attracted the bulk of the media’s attention, but landowners in Iowa and the Sierra Club will be in an appeals court Dec. 15 contending that the Iowa Public Utilities Board misused eminent domain by condemning farmland. They will argue that creating a path for a private company to transport oil falls short of the public benefit that justifies seizing private property.
“It goes against a lot of thrifty Iowans’ idea of what’s a good use of money,” said Carolyn Raffensperger, executive director of the Science and Environmental Health Network. “Why would you privilege one property owner over another?”
Michael McLaughlin, Reporter, The Huffington Post Kate Abbey-Lambertz, National Reporter, The Huffington Post
Trump “demands fierce resistance”
We’re going to be dealing with an onslaught of daily emergencies during the Trump years. Already it’s begun — if there’s nothing going on (or in some cases when there is), our leader often begins the day with a tweet to stir the pot, and suddenly we’re debating whether burning the flag should lose you your citizenship.
These crises will get worse once he has power — from day to day we’ll have to try and protect vulnerable immigrants, or deal with the latest outrage from the white supremacist “alt-reich,” or confront the latest self-dealing scandal in the upper reaches of the Tower. It will be a game (though not a fun one), for 48 months, of trying to preserve as many people and as much of the Constitution as possible.
And if we’re very lucky, at the end of those four years, we might be able to go back to something that resembles normal life. Much damage will have been done in the meantime, but perhaps not irreparable damage. Obamacare will be gone, but something like it — maybe even something better — will be resurrectable. The suffering in the meantime will be real, but it won’t make the problem harder to solve, assuming reason someday returns. That’s, I guess, the good news: that someday normal life may resume.
But even that slight good news doesn’t apply to the question of climate change. It’s very likely that by the time Trump is done we’ll have missed whatever opening still remains for slowing down the trajectory of global warming — we’ll have crossed thresholds from which there’s no return. In this case, the damage he’s promising will be permanent, for two reasons.
The first is the most obvious: The adversary here is ultimately physics, which plays by its own rules. As we continue to heat the planet, we see that planet changing in ways that turn into feedback loops. If you make it hot enough to melt Arctic ice (and so far we’ve lost about half of our supply) then one of the side effects is removing a nice white mirror from the top of the planet. Instead of that mirror reflecting 80 percent of the sun’s rays out to space, you’ve now got blue water that absorbs most of the incoming rays of the sun, amping up the heat. Oh, and as that water warms, the methane frozen in its depths eventually begins to melt — and methane is a potent greenhouse gas. Even if, someday, we get a president back in power who’s willing to try and turn down the coal, gas, and oil burning, there will be nothing we can do about that melting methane. Some things are forever, or at least for geologic time.
There’s another reason too, however, and that’s that the international political mechanisms Trump wants to smash can’t easily be assembled again, even with lots of future good will. It took immense diplomatic efforts to reach the Paris climate accords — 25 years of negotiating with endless setbacks. The agreement itself is a jury-rigged kludge, but at least it provides a mechanism for action. It depends on each country voluntarily doing its part, though, and if the biggest historic source of the planet’s carbon decides not to play, it’s easy to guess that an awful lot of other leaders will decide that they’d just as soon give in to their fossil fuel interests too.
So Trump is preparing to make a massive bet: a bet that the scientific consensus about climate change is wrong, and that the other 191 nations of the world are wrong as well. It’s a bet based on literally nothing — when The New York Times asked him about global warming, he started mumbling about a physicist uncle of his who died in 1985. The job — and it may not be a possible job — is for the rest of us to figure out how to make the inevitable loss of this bet as painless as possible.
It demands fierce resistance to his silliness — clearly his people are going to kill Obama’s Clean Power Plan, but perhaps they can be shamed into simply ignoring but not formally abrogating the Paris accords. This is work not just for activists, but for the elites that Trump actually listens to. Here’s where we need what’s left of the establishment to be weighing in: Fortune 500 executives, Wall Streeters — anyone who knows how stupid a bet this is.
By Bill McKibben