Hey Standing Rock, Was Yosemite Sam Busy?

Tim Purdon, an attorney for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, asks economic consultant Jeff Makholm questions about the need for expansion of the Dakota Access Pipeline at a hearing in Linton, N.D. on Nov. 13, 2019. Makholm is a witness for pipeline operator Energy Transfer. Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

I’m watching the North Dakota Public Service Commission’s hearing on a proposed expansion of the Dakota Access Pipeline today ( it’s on-going, you can live stream it here, I’m not sure if or when an archive will be available).

The proceedings are mostly unfolding as you’d expect. A sober, if at times pointed, discussion of the merits of the expansion. Which is as it should be. This sort of hearing is intended as a venue for pointed, and at times difficult, questions about a vital piece of the state’s energy infrastructure.

I’d be remiss, though, if I didn’t comment on the involvement of former U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon as an attorney for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.

Setting aside my personal feelings about the tribe’s argument against the pipeline – to be clear, I think it’s short-sighted and entirely too dependent on ideology as opposed to real-world considerations of how we meet our nation’s energy needs – why on earth would the tribe make someone like Purdon the face of their opposition to the pipeline?

The man is a cartoon character. A veritable Yosemite Sam, blustering through questions about the arcana of pipelines which are clearly beyond him.

The man is a cartoon character. A veritable Yosemite Sam, blustering through questions about the arcana of pipelines which are clearly beyond him.

Though that sort of thing has been a hallmark of Purdon’s career, both in the legal industry and as a politico involved in the North Dakota Democratic Party.

Some people think they can obscure their intellectual shortcomings by being louder and angrier and more sarcastic than everyone else, and Purdon is undoubtedly one of them. He goes about his business from behind a thick, billowing cloud of smug.

I’m at odds with our friends at Standing Rock when it comes to the Dakota Access Pipeline. Still, it’s almost heartbreaking to see their interests represented by such a grasping, modestly talented, resume-padding hack.

You readers will remember Purdon’s brief tenure as U.S. Attorney was cut short when he decided to jump ship into the private sector. His sole accomplishment in that office, if we can call it that, was turning himself into a national laughing stock by way of an absurd bid to bring criminal charges against oil companies over a couple of dozen dead ducks.

No doubt Purdon left early to cash in on the status of being someone once appointed to something by President Obama. Which is probably how he got this gig representing Standing Rock.

Maybe Purdon’s angry, if ultimately shallow, questioning is a tactic the tribe wanted to deploy. If so, I guess they got their man, but how well did anger work for the tribe in the political fight over the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline? The ugly and at times, quite violent demonstrations may have been gratifying to certain left-wing nihilists who seem to thrive on such things, but as a practical matter, what did it accomplish beyond souring a vast swath of North Dakotans, and Americans, to the tribe’s arguments?

The pipeline is operating now, bringing up to half a million barrels per day of North Dakota oil to market. Barring some unforeseen turn of events, an expansion of the pipeline is likely to be approved, roughly doubling its capacity.

It may feel good for the tribe to send in clowns like Purdon to throw rhetorical rocks at pipeline company representatives, but does that really serve their interests in the end?

The others doing the questioning of the pipeline officials have done a good job so far, but I suspect for anyone watching their work will be overshadowed by Purdon’s antics.

That’s a shame. This process deserves better.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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