Back in December, then-President Barack Obama handed a major victory for thousands of protesters and Indigenous People, when the Department of the Army announced it would not approve an easement that would allow the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline to cross under Lake Oahe in North Dakota.
For months, protesters and authorities had squared off over an easement of land near the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s reservation. Tribal officials have repeatedly expressed concerns about the risk that a pipeline rupture or spill could pose to its water supply and treaty rights. They have been joined by thousands of protesters over the period of several months, resulting in arrests and complaints about police brutality.
That all changed on Tuesday with the stroke of a pen by new President Donald Trump.
The President’s memorandum “directed the relevant Federal agencies (including the Army Corps of Engineers) to expedite reviews and approvals for the remaining portions of the Dakota Access Pipeline., a $3.8 billion, 1,100-mile pipeline designed to carry around 500,000 barrels per day of crude oil from the Bakken and Three Forks oil production areas in North Dakota to oil markets in the U.S.”
The President indicated, “At this time, DAPL is more than 90% complete across its entire route. Only a limited stretch of the project is not yet constructed. Timely review and approval of energy pipelines is critical to a strong economy, energy independence, and national security.
“I am, to a large extent, an environmentalist, I believe in it,” Mr. Trump said on Tuesday. “But it’s out of control, and we’re going to make it a very short process. And we’re going to either give you your permits, or we’re not going to give you your permits. But you’re going to know very quickly. And generally speaking, we’re going to be giving you your permits.”
Mr. Trump also resurrected the Keystone XL pipeline.
In 2015, President Obama would reject that extension to the Keystone Pipeline system, arguing that it would undercut American leadership in curbing the reliance on carbon energy.
Environmental leaders were quick to denounce the new decisions. “Donald Trump has been in office for four days, and he’s already proving to be the dangerous threat to our climate we feared he would be,” said Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club.
However it is the Dakota Access Pipeline, or DAPL, that figures to have broad ramifications – not just on environmental policy but as the flashpoint between protests, civil rights and police brutality.
The local police at Standing Rock, even before the new president had taken office, engaged in escalation tactics with the protesters. An early October communication from the ACLU noted, “And for the past six weeks… the Morton County Sheriff’s Office has dramatically increased its surveillance of the gathering, militarized the county, and taken action to suppress the religious expression of the indigenous people gathered at Sacred Stone.”
They noted “the use of surveillance, military-style force, and religious oppression.”
A November rally in Davis saw protesters block intersections. Francisco Dominguez told the crowd he saw this issue as “environmental racism.” He said, “These companies have been preying upon Indian Reservations across this land… they’ve been doing it for years.”
He described an action that occurred in the early 1980s on another reservation, which he said they destroyed the land. “In many places they have to truck the water in, because it’s poison,” Mr. Dominguez said. “This movement that we had today, that should have been happening then.”
The media, he said, did not pay attention because it was happening on an Indian Reservation, therefore “it doesn’t affect us.” But he said, “Whatever happens on an Indian Reservation, ends up affecting society as we see it. Now all lands have been opened up for oil exploration, extraction, fracking by our own government. Last time I checked, I thought we had a democracy here.”
“In mid-August, Gov. Jack Dalrymple declared a state of emergency for southwest and central south North Dakota in response to actions taken by the water protectors. Despite the governor’s and the local sheriff’s verbal commitment to allowing constitutionally protected lawful protest, the result of the state of emergency has been a vast suppression of the right to protest and a dramatic increase in police surveillance around — and above — the camp,” the ACLU noted.
By late October the stand off actually heated up as protesters indicated they would not back down. Police in riot gear would face off with protesters. There were mass arrests. “Tensions are so high that Amnesty International is sending representatives to monitor the arrests,” CNN reported.
It is important to note that these clashes came under the Obama administration. President Trump’s signing now marks a major shift in policy and, with it, could bring back the contentious protests.
The Keystone and Dakota pipelines are more symbolic but provide a way for the new President to demonstrate a major policy shift. Studies downplay the impact of either pipeline on jobs or the environment.
Estimates from the State Department suggest that Keystone would support only about 42,000 temporary jobs for two years, and only 35 permanent ones. Meanwhile Keystone’s carbon emissions would equal less than 1 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.
Meanwhile, DAPL protests already ratcheted up with a protest in downtown Sacramento yesterday near the Army Corps of Engineers Office on J Street.
Critics vowed to keep resisting the projects.
Jan Hasselman, a lawyer for Earthjustice, an environmental law group representing the tribe, said “They’re just ignoring the problems that the government has already found,” he said, “and that is the kind of thing that courts need to review very closely.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting