President Trump Says the Dakota Access Pipeline ‘Serves the National Interest,’ Yet It Threatens Indian Rights and the Drinking Water of 18 Million People

STANDING ROCK INDIAN RESERVATION, N.D. — President Trump’s executive order yesterday has an impressive-sounding title: “Expediting Environmental Reviews and Approvals for High-Priority Infrastructure Projects.” What the title really should say, however, is: “How to Make Money for Big Oil Real Fast Despite the Human and Environmental Costs.”    

The executive order makes no reference to the Dakota Access Pipeline, the 1,100-mile pipeline being constructed to carry nearly 500 million gallons of fracked crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois each day. Yet expediting the construction of DAPL is the obvious goal of the executive order. In fact, Trump signed a presidential memorandum at the same time he signed the executive order, stating his belief that construction of the pipeline would “serve the national interest.” 

Unfortunately, Trump doesn’t mention in either the executive order or the memorandum that completing the construction of DAPL will require the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to issue a permit allowing the pipeline to be constructed underneath the Missouri River, just north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota. He doesn’t mention that the route of the pipeline was first planned to traverse land further north until white landowners complained, causing a change in the route. He doesn’t mention that a leak of oil in the Missouri River would not only threaten federally protected water rights belonging to the Standing Rock Sioux but would pollute water used by some 18 million persons. He doesn’t mention that completion of DAPL would destroy sacred sites of the tribe. And, finally, he doesn’t mention that the owner of the company building DAPL contributed more than $100,000 to his election campaign.

Trump wants to expedite “high priority infrastructure projects.” But whose “priority” is really being served here? 

The Obama administration recognized that the pipeline has the capacity to cause catastrophic misery and loss if it ruptures. Consequently, the Army Corps announced that a comprehensive study must be conducted into the project’s potential environmental impact before a permit could be issued. The Obama administration also confirmed that under federal law DAPL cannot be approved until proper consultation with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is completed. Moreover, under international legal principles, our government should seek the informed consent of indigenous people prior to undertaking a project on federal land that threatens their health and welfare. 

Yet Trump seems determined to rush the approval process.

Trump wants to expedite “high priority infrastructure projects.” But whose “priority” is really being served here? 

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe strenuously argues that construction of the pipeline would violate its rights under federal treaties and statutes.  Those are issues that may ultimately need to be litigated. At this point, however, Trump apparently agrees that the law requires the Army Corps to complete the environmental impact assessment and determine the threat to the environment before going ahead with the pipeline. The Trump administration should therefore allow the Army Corps to take the time it needs to conduct a careful and proper assessment of environmental impact, both to the general public and to the tribe. 

Two interrelated questions which should be answered are: What risks are we willing to take to help big oil move fracked oil from North Dakota to Illinois, and was the choice of this route influenced by the fact that a leak would immediately impact an Indian tribe rather than white landowners?

Stephen L. Pevar’s book, “The Rights of Indians and Tribes” (Oxford 2012), is available here.

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Anonymous

Unfortunately you forgot to mention that the pipeline was approved by the Corps of Engineers for the entire length but was shut down at the last minute by the Obama administration for political reasons.

Anonymous

The right-of-way across non-public land was not approved by COE.

Adam Heckathorn

To the last comment you are incorrect. It would seem to be the course of wisdom to have gotten approval for the entire pipeline through normal channels but they did not they got approval in bits and pieces through the misuse of a regulation called rule twelve so that at no point was the impact of the entire pipeline considered. If they had done it the proper way we wouldn't be talking about it it would have been approved or rejected in it's entirety already.

Anonymous

Is the crude oil fracked and then moved through the pipeline from North Dakota or Canada? I was under the impression this pipeline and others are not even America's, rather Canadian. Am I wrong? Not that it would change my feelings about pipelines. I full heartedly believe we need to move away from fossil fuels and into the renewable green energies. I also believe that we can create just as many jobs/money doing that, as would be created through continuing with fossil fuels. But if it is true, why is the government allowing Canada to do this? And could it be that agreement with Canada that is intimidating our government from saying, no we will not move forward with this project?

Anonymous

If I understand correctly. The DAPL come from North Dakota. The Keystone pipeline comes from Canada. We are not letting Canada do it. Canadawas left hanging when Obama cancelled the Keystone XL pipeline. They are really happy the thing will now be completed

Marjorie Bray

This is fracked oil from North Dakota. The practice of fracking in and of itself is an insult to the earth. What happens to the polluted water expelled from the operation? The methane that escapes? Right into the atmosphere. Ask the people from NE PA about their well water after fracking. (the people who didn't sell their souls to big oil for fracking rights, that is)
Back to the subject, the oil from Canada is for the Keystone pipeline.

Roz

this Canadian pipeline moves tarsands from Canada through the US for CHINA. the profiteers from this are the shareholders only...they include trump and Rex what ever his name is...who has been chosen by trump as Sec. of State... 'the Sec of State has the power to remove the sanctions between the US and Russia...for...wait for it...OIL...

Anonymous

The oil is indeed Canadian tho it belongs to a private company not the Canadian goverment. This private company also has a lot of its stock owned by Donald Trump.

Anonymous

I notice the protestors including the Indians got to the protest site using cars and pickup trucks.

Anonymous

Really, that is your argument for the pipeline...You are right, we should have had alternative energy vehicles 30 years ago.

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