Pipeline protesters win temporary victory at Standing Rock
Native Americans and environmental activists won a symbolic victory this week in their battle to stop an oil pipeline from being built near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied permission for a section of the project to be constructed under the Missouri River. Protesters including veterans and celebrities had flocked to Standing Rock to demonstrate against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which tribe leaders say threatens the reservation’s water supply and sacred burial sites. The pipeline, which would transport North Dakota oil 1,200 miles to a terminal in Illinois, is 92 percent complete. Part of the uncompleted section would have passed under Lake Oahe, a Corps reservoir a half-mile from Standing Rock. But in a surprise announcement, the Corps said it wouldn’t grant an easement for Lake Oahe and would instead “explore alternate routes.” As news spread at the protest camp, drumming and dancing broke out, and people shouted “Mni wiconi!”—Lakota for “Water is life.”
Energy Transfer Partners, the Dallas-based company behind the pipeline, asked a federal judge for a permit to finish the project, while industry leaders called on President-elect Donald Trump to reverse the Corps’ decision after his inauguration. The presidentelect, who until recently held shares in Energy Transfer Partners, supports the pipeline’s original route, said a Trump spokesman— but wouldn’t make a final decision until he was in office. Many protesters vowed to remain at the site through the bitter North Dakota winter. “I plan on staying until it’s over,” said activist Andy Shute.
What the columnists said
Activism works, said Charles Pierce in Esquire.com. That’s the lesson of Standing Rock, where protesters erected a mini-city of yurts and tepees and braved “overaggressive policing” to protect an indigenous people’s basic right to clean water. Their passionate stand captured the attention of the nation, and with the Obama administration’s help, secured a major victory “for a cause once deemed to be hopeless.”
The Dakota pipeline has become a meaningless “hate totem for the Left,” said Rich Lowry in the New York Post. Developers have already made 140 adjustments to the pipeline’s route to avoid sensitive sites. And the proposed Lake Oahe crossing is hardly “virgin territory”: Other oil and gas pipelines cross the Missouri River in at least a dozen places nearby. Yet the Obama administration still caved to the protesters’ absurd demands and leaned on the Corps. Fortunately for the energy industry, the incoming Trump administration will have “a more rational attitude toward pipelines.”
That’s why Energy Transfer Partners is confident the Corps’ decision is just a temporary holdup, said Daniel Gross in Slate.com. In theory, the Corps’ refusal to grant an easement should trigger a lengthy environmental review. But Republicans believe they can either pass a law in Congress clearing the way for the pipeline or that Trump—who championed fossil fuel production in the campaign—will happily exert pressure on agencies and civil servants to make policies that benefit energy firms. “The pipeline is dead. Long live the pipeline.”