Time to permanently block the Dakota Access pipeline
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has been entrenched in a legal battle against the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) for four long years. Through it all, one thing has never changed: Our lands, waters and way of life remain at risk with each passing day that the dangerous oil pipeline remains in operation.
The pipeline crosses the Missouri River just half a mile upstream from the border of the Standing Rock reservation. It is a place considered sacred to the Sioux nations, a landscape of extraordinary cultural and historic importance, where our ancestors were buried and where ceremonies take place. Moreover, we remain deeply concerned about the high risk of an oil spill, which would irreversibly contaminate this waterway and carry devastating implications to both the economy and the culture of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and others.
The Missouri River is the primary source of drinking water for the Tribe’s residents, and access to clean water is essential — particularly in the context of a global pandemic, which has hit Native American communities especially hard. Seventeen million people downstream also rely on the Missouri River for drinking water. Especially alarming is Energy Transfer Partners’ record of carelessness, evidenced by a string of safety violations and oil spills.
Earlier this year, a federal court in Washington D.C. agreed with the Tribe that the Trump administration rushed through the pipeline permits without a full environmental analysis, as required under federal law. The court ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to go back and complete this important process, which includes assessing alternative locations for the pipeline. Sometime in the next several weeks, we expect the court to issue a decision on whether or not to shut down the pipeline while the Corps brings itself into compliance with the law.
Whatever the outcome of the pending decision, we remain clear that taking DAPL out of operation permanently is the only way to protect our climate and leave our lands and waters intact for future generations. It is the only way to signal to the government and private corporations that they cannot treat sovereign Indian tribes, with Treaty-protected lands, as an afterthought. It is the only way to right some small measure of the historical wrongs that the government has perpetrated on the Sioux nations throughout history.
In other words, whichever way the court rules, it will be up to the next administration to decide whether pipeline permits should be reissued once the environmental analysis is complete. At that juncture, true leadership would mean denying permits for DAPL.
Last month, dozens of U.S. representatives and senators — including Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) — filed a brief with the court supporting the Tribe’s request for a pipeline shutdown. We hope and expect that if Vice President Joe Biden wins the presidential race, he will show the same leadership as these members of Congress. President Obama sought to do the right thing in 2016 by blocking the final permits for DAPL to cross the Missouri River. Trump overturned this decision immediately after taking office, but violated the law in doing so. It will be up to a Biden administration to correct this wrong.
The massive 2016 gathering of Tribes and allies defending Standing Rock Sioux territory from DAPL in 2016 captured the world’s attention, and helped give rise to a global movement of indigenous resistance to fossil-fuel infrastructure projects. Long after the world’s attention has waned, we have stayed in this fight and we intend to see it through to the end.
Mike Faith is chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.