A Renewed Legal Battle Against DAPL

By Mike Faith, Chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Originally Published by Standing Rock Sioux Tribe

In 2016, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s peaceful and principled opposition to a new crude oil pipeline crossing our ancestral homelands and our water source captured the world’s attention. Although the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) has been operating for more than two years, the Tribe’s defense of water and earth hasn’t faded from memory and continues to shape national conversations about how our choices affect this planet, our home.

Several Democratic presidential hopefuls, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Kamala Harris, recently pledged to revoke the DAPL permits if elected. That is the right thing to do; we ask all candidates to join this pledge. Those permits – which unfairly burden the Tribe with the risk of accidental oil spills into our water source and onto lands sacred to us – should never have been issued.

Chairman Mike Faith. Photo: https://www.facebook.com/StandingRockST/
Chairman Mike Faith. Photo: https://www.facebook.com/StandingRockST/

In late 2016, the previous administration correctly and justifiably denied a key permit DAPL operators needed to cross the Missouri River, just upstream of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Indian Reservation. In early 2017, the current administration reversed course on its second day in office and issued the key permit that cleared the way for the pipeline’s completion. Although a federal judge agreed with our Tribe’s position that the pipeline’s environmental review was unlawful, the construction went forward, and oil has been flowing through the pipeline since the summer of 2017.

But the story does not end there. The Tribe is still engaged in a court battle challenging pipeline permits. Early next year, the court will rule on our renewed legal challenge. We have asked, for a second time, that permits be thrown out, and the pipeline shut down, because permitting was unlawful. Our motion asking the court to stop pipeline operations followed an insincere process by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the regulatory agency in charge of the project. A federal judge ordered the Corps to redo an environmental review process because the Corps’ permits fell short of legal standards. Instead of taking our concerns seriously, the Corps ignored the evidence we offered showing that the risk and impact of an oil spill is worse than ever acknowledged. The Corps refused to share key technical documents with us or to engage with our technical experts. The Corps then issued a report affirming its earlier findings that the pipeline did not present a risk to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

NODAPL-Horsemen Image Credit: Rob Wilson photography

Meanwhile, the companies that own DAPL—Energy Transfer and Sunoco—have applied to double the capacity of the pipeline from 570,000 to 1.1 million barrels a day. This breathtaking amount of oil greatly raises the stakes of a spill or leak. The state public utility commissions in North Dakota, Illinois, and Iowa have scheduled hearings to consider the safety of this dramatic increase in oil flow. In mid-November, the North Dakota Public Service Commission will hold a hearing on the proposed expansion. We have intervened in this hearing to demonstrate that Energy Transfer’s and Sunoco’s plan to double capacity will increase the risk to human health and safety, family farms and ranches, plant life, and animal health and safety. Given that Energy Transfer and Sunoco have the worst safety and compliance record in the entire industry, how can they can safely manage the expanded capacity? In Pennsylvania, these companies are under criminal investigation for their carelessness in building a different pipeline.

To some, this may be just another pipeline in just another place. But to us, it’s not just a pipeline, it’s a threat. And it’s not just a place, it’s our home. The only one we have. Every day the pipeline operates represents a threat to our way of life and an insult to our culture and traditions that have withstood so much. We are still here. We are not giving up this fight.