There are a lot of reasons to think the Obama administration’s decision to decline an easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline yesterday was a travesty, among the most prominent the fact that it was President Obama who made this decision.
It’s worth keeping in mind that the pipeline’s current crossing of Lake Oahe was already approved and permitted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. That the Corps has now declined an easement for a route they’d already permitted, saying they’d like to explore other routes, tells us this decision was made in the White House, and that it was utterly political.
But setting aside concerns over political interference in the regulatory process for pipelines, what President Obama’s decision here signals to extremist political movements is all the more troubling.
What he’s telling them is that if you obstruct long enough, if you throw enough rocks and set enough fires, you might just get your way.
From the long-delayed Keystone XL project to the Sandpiper line, which was waylaid by activists in Minnesota, to the Dakota Access Pipeline, each new iteration of this fight has seen environmental zealots grow bolder and more violent. Why? Because their antics have been working.
What happens when other political movements get the idea that violence and intimidation works? Should the pro-life movement begin occupying abortion clinics until Planned Parenthood is defunded? Of course not. The whole point of representative government is that we have avenues in place for peaceful reform of the law. But if one political movement can find success operating outside of the law, will more follow?
I hope not.
We can take some solace in the fact that, as the Grand Forks Herald editorial points out today, this was probably something of a Pyrrhic victory for the #NoDAPL movement and the left generally. “The protesters won an important battle on Sunday, when their efforts convinced the Obama administration to block the pipeline,” the paper writes. “But it’s likely to be a Pyrrhic victory, not only because the Trump administration might reverse it, but also because it deepens the public’s distrust of modern liberals’ governance.”
I think that’s right.
The reason why democratic societies tend to be more peaceful than the alternatives is because of the rule of laws which reflect the will of the people. Our society has established numerous avenues for creating and/or reforming laws, and once those laws are written we expect that they be enforced equally for all citizens.
In this case the legal arguments in favor of the Dakota Access Pipeline and its current route have been presented and upheld in court multiple times. So when President Obama steps in, siding with a bullying and violent protest movement, and sets aside the rulings of state and federal regulators which have been upheld repeatedly by the courts, many if not most Americans see an injustice.
As they should.
One of the big reasons behind Trump’s surprise victory in November (not to mention the decline of elected Democrats in state governments) is that many, many Americans feel – in areas of public policy ranging from immigration to energy – that the left is willing to manipulate or even outright ignore the law to get what they want.
I’m not saying that Republicans have clean hands in this regard, only that their sins against the rule of law haven’t been quite so egregious.
So celebrate today, liberals. Obama has bought you a delay in completion of this pipeline that might last months. But the project will probably be completed, and all the current President’s machinations will likely have accomplished little more than creating more Republicans.