Anybody looking for evidence of why there is such a high level of public distrust for government and media needs to look no further than the Dakota Access Pipeline.
This past week, the Army Corp of Engineers decided it wouldn’t be granting the company building the pipeline the easement it needs to cross the Missouri River.
The 1,200-mile, $3.8 billion pipeline project is 92 percent complete and, stunningly, the same government agency approved the easement for the project just this past July.
Back then, the crossing route near Lake Ohae was deemed safe. In an environmental assessment, the very same Army Corp argued that the developer, Energy Transfer Partners, had, “developed response and action plans, and will include several monitoring systems, shut-off valves, and other safety features to minimize the risk of spills and reduce … any potential damages.”
But now, according to Army Assistant Secretary for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy, “Although we have had continuing discussion and exchanges of new information with the Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access, it’s clear that there’s more work to do. ... The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing.”
American Indians of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North Dakota and environmentalists have been camping out at the project’s construction site for weeks. They’re pretty happy about the decision.
They – and a fairly compliant national mainstream media – have done a pretty good job of painting the project as scourge against American Indians, their sacred lands and the environment. But their claims that the pipeline would trample culturally sensitive sites and taint drinking water are long on emotion and short on facts.
ETP is more than a little ticked off.
The company released a statement Sunday night, saying, “the further delay is just the latest in a series of overt and transparent political actions by an administration which has abandoned the rule of law in favor of currying favor with a narrow and extreme political constituency.”
ETP has jumped through more hoops than a fire eater at a circus performers’ convention. There have been years of permits, easements and environmental and cultural impact studies.
It’s not that I think energy companies – even energy transfer companies – are above abusing the environment for profit, but this case was far more about politics than the environment.
Raina Thiele volunteered for President Barack Obama in 2008 and worked for his re-election bid. She later worked in the White House’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement and as a liaison to Native American communities.
In an article posted Monday, she told the Washington Post, “For (Obama), it made a lot of sense, based on both who he is and what he cares about, that he can lift up this population that has not been treated very well.”
The president and first lady visited Standing Rock in June 2014. They spent an hour talking to young members of the tribe about the high rates of suicide, alcoholism and unemployment that dominate life on their reservation.
A week later, Thiele told the Post, the president called several members of his staff to the Roosevelt Room. Tearing up, she recalled, he told the group, “He needed to do something and he wanted to see real progress, especially for tribal youth, before he left office.”
But beyond the talk, there wasn’t much action.
So, according to the Post, Kendrick Eagle, who met with Obama at Standing Rock and again at the White House, released a video last week from the camp in which he says, “I’m here, standing with my people, talking to you and asking you if you can come and help us stop this pipeline. Because I just want you to stick to your word, that you said would have our backs as long as you were in office.”
Then, according to the Post, ... “Last week 17 former Native American administration officials, including Thiele and former White House senior policy adviser Kim Teehee, sent a letter to Obama asking him to block the $3.8 billion pipeline project. Although she was not a signatory, Jodi Archambault Gillette, Obama’s former special assistant for Native American affairs, is an active Standing Rock tribe member whose brother serves as chairman of the tribe.”
To be fair, Obama didn’t instruct the Army Corp to scrap the easement, but he sent a pretty clear signal to all government agencies when he said recently that, “My view is that there is a way for us to accommodate sacred lands of Native Americans.”
And the easement was rescinded.
So here are some salient facts – underreported in the mainstream national press – about this situation.
These are documented points gleaned from court records by several sources online, including the Daily Caller.
• The tribe avoided taking part in the initial consulting process.
The Army Corps of Engineers attempted more than a dozen times between 2014 and 2016 to discuss the DAPL route with Standing Rock. The tribe either failed to respond to requests for consultation or dragged its feet during the process.
The head of the North Dakota Public Service Commission told National Public Radio that Standing Rock Sioux did not participate in the nearly 30 hours of meetings held to determine the pipeline’s southern route.
• The DAPL runs parallel to an existing pipeline.
The Northern Border Pipeline, built in 1982 already runs through the areas currently being disputed by Standing Rock and  never received any protests or complaints from demonstrators associated with Standing Rock.
• The government rerouted DAPL several times to avoid tribal lands.
Cultural surveys conducted prior to the pipeline receiving the approval show 91 of the 149 eligible sites contained stone features considered sacred by American Indian tribes.
The pipeline was rerouted and modified to avoid all 91 of those areas, and all but nine of the other potentially eligible sites.
• The DAPL route does not cut through Standing Rock’s reservation.
In fact, the entire area is privately owned, meaning the route is located several miles north of the tribe’s ancestral land.
• ETP moved the project south near the Standing Rock reservation because it was 11 miles shorter and considered less damaging to the environment, according to a report the Army Corps of Engineers.
• Finally, eminent domain was never used on the North Dakota route.
Energy Transfer Partners relied on voluntary easements, which are non-possessory rights to use the property of a landowner without owning the land itself, to construct the pipeline’s southern route near Standing Rock Sioux’s reservation.
Much of the land that protesters are occupying during their demonstrations is private property owned by farmers.
What does Donald Trump think?
Jason Miller, a spokesman for President-elect Donald Trump, told reporters that the pipeline is “something that we support construction of and we’ll review the full situation when we’re in the White House to make appropriate determination at that time.”
(It’s important to note here that Trump has sold his entire stake in Energy Transfer Partners.)
So, of course, all of this could change after Trump takes office, and frankly, I’m not so sure it doesn’t need to change.