What President Obama Did to the Dakota Access Pipeline Was a Travesty


On Friday last week, in the space of about 10 minutes, the fortunes for the much-belabored Dakota Access Pipeline changed so quickly we observers nearly got whiplash.

First a federal judge – Obama appointee James Boasberg – ruled in favor of the pipeline on the legal merits (read his opinion here). He rejected claims made the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, through their lawyers at Earthjustice, that the pipeline company had been cavalier about preserving culturally significant areas along the DAPL route and that the tribe itself hadn’t been sufficiently consulted about the route itself.

To the former point, Boasberg noted that the pipeline company made numerous changes to its route in order to respect areas identified as culturally significant. In fact, the route was changed 140 times to respect those sort of areas, the result of the pipeline company surveying twice as many miles of route as the pipeline ultimately used in North Dakota:


Boasberg also noted that, far from putting down pipeline in virgin, untouched prairie the route near the Standing Rock Reservation and the Lake Oahe/Missouri River crossing was chosen specifically because there is already a pipeline and overhead power lines on that land:


To the latter point the tribe is making – that they were not sufficiently consulted on the construction of the pipeline – Boasberg found that the facts disputed the assertion:


In summary, Boasberg found the arguments from the Standing Rock Tribe and their environmental activist lawyers wanting, and rejected their request for an injunction halting construction of the pipeline.

But then, in an announcement timed for just minutes after Boasberg released his opinion, President Barack Obama stepped in and moved the goal posts. Where Boasberg issued an opinion based on a legal analysis, finding that Energy Transfer Partners and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers followed the law, the Obama administration applied a political standard.

One that has everything to do with the administration’s long-standing hatred of domestic oil production.

Keep in mind that just 3 percent of the Dakota Access Pipeline’s entire route is subject to federal permitting.

Keep in mind thatĀ the project itself is already roughly halfway completed with “48% of the pipeline had already been cleared, graded, trenched, piped, backfilled, and reclaimed,” according to Boasberg.

Despite billions of dollars worth of investment in infrastructure which impacts thousands upon thousands of jobs and the economies of several states, President Obama brought the whole thing to a halt with a flick of his executive pen.

That is not the action of the chief executive of a republican form of government. That is the action of someone who fancies themselves a sort of elected monarch.

As window dressing for his arbitrary and capricious decision, President Obama suggested that a greater degree of consultation with the tribes on projects of this nature must be sought. Perhaps that is a noble and laudable goal – some might argue that the rigors of existing requirements are sufficient, but we can debate it – but it is hardly just to apply that standard to a half-built pipelineĀ after the fact.

Particularly one being built along the corridor of an existing pipeline.

In doing this Obama isn’t so much working to respect the rights of indigenous peoples. That’s merely his excuse. A means to an end, which is a radical sort of hostility to fossil fuel production.

What President Obama did to the Dakota Access Pipeline last week was a travesty. A vindication of countless criticisms of big, overbearing government. The disease of heavy-handed and often arbitrary regulation which has, unfortunately, manifested the popular candidacy of one Donald J. Trump as a side effect.

I write that not as a criticism of the goals Obama seeks, as much as I disagree with them, but rather of the means by which he seeks to obtain them.