The violent protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline cost the State of North Dakota nearly $40 million.
That dollar figure is based on what it cost to have law enforcement, first responders, the National Guard, and various state/local agencies address the situation.
There were a lot of factors at play during the protests but one central issue, something without which the protests likely wouldn’t have been so prolonged and destructive, was the decision to allow the protesters to trespass on federal land managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Hundreds and hundreds of protesters, including encampments of some of the most violent activists, stayed on this land for months causing significant damage to it all while the federal government did mostly nothing.
That fact is the basis of the State of North Dakota’s lawsuit against the Corps.
The state argues that their costs – our costs, more accurately – resulted from a failure of the federal government to address law-breaking taking place on their property.
Today the Corps fired back on this charge, moving to dismiss the state’s lawsuit, but their argument is an exercise in circular logic.
On the first page of the filing, the Corps admits the protesters were on the land illegally. “North Dakota repeatedly and correctly refers to the protestors as trespassers throughout its Complaint,” the Corps states in the introduction to their motion. Unfortunately, from there the Corps goes down a rabbit hole until they’re left arguing that federal law does not require the Corps to enforce its own regulations.
To which I’ve got to think North Dakota’s lawyers are saying…well yeah. That’s the whole point. The Corps allowed protesters to use federal land unlawfully, to use that land as a basis for other violent criminal activities, and they did nothing about it.
The fact that violence was perpetrated by the people using the land is not even in question. This is from the Corps’ own filing:
To be fair to the Corps, their lack of a response to the protesters was a political directive coming down from the top of the Obama administration. There was a point during the protests when the Corps did try to reach out to local law enforcement to address the protesters, but after news of that interaction broke the request was rescinded.
The Corps actually describes it in their filing:
Neither the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe nor any individual or faction of individuals involved in the protests completed a permit to use this land. They were trespassing and using the property they were trespassing on as a base of operations for other criminal activities which put people at risk of injury and death.
At one point the Corps tried to call in the local cops to address this but then rescinded that request.
Why? One has to assume that the Obama administration, who were roadblocking the pipeline on the regulatory front, wanted to facilitate the protests. Even despite the risk they posed to the safety of all involved.
It may well be that the Corps can escape liability based on some technicality of the jurisdiction in federal law, but outside the myopic lens of a legal proceeding, there is no doubt they’re responsible.
North Dakota shouldn’t have to sue to get these expenses paid. The feds should just be ponying up.
UPDATE: Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem tells reporter John Hageman that the Corps’ response is “preposterous.”
Here’s the full motion filed by the Corps: