Standing Rock Tribe Should Ditch Earthjustice if They Want Pipeline Lawsuit Taken Seriously

Jake Yellow Horse, of Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, posted a flag during a ride in April on the reservation to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline construction. The ride ended at a spirit camp that will be maintained while the pipeline is under protest. (LAUREN DONOVAN, Bismarck Tribune)

“The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers accusing the federal agency of violating the National Historic Preservation Act and other laws after it issued final permits this week for a crude oil pipeline stretching from North Dakota to Illinois,” reports Barry Amundson for the Grand Forks Herald.

The pipeline in question is the Dakota Access Pipeline which will, when built, carry 450,000 barrels per day of crude oil from gathering points in western North Dakota down to a petroleum transport hub in Illinois. It’s an important piece of infrastructure for the state’s energy industry. Not only would it reduce the costs of developing oil resources in our state by lowering transport expenses but it would also provide yet another alternative to oil-by-rail transports which have proved controversial and problematic in the past.

The Standing Rock Tribe, of course, has every right to challenge the pipeline’s regulatory approval. It’s understandable that they’d want to ensure that their lands, waters, and culturally important areas are protected.

The Standing Rock tribal leadership is doing their people a real disservice by allowing their legal standing to be co-opted by a group with unserious and politically extreme objectives.

They blundered, though, in teaming with Earthjustice to file the lawsuit. Because by allowing an organization like that to represent them in court the tribe is allowing their legal interests to be co-opted by a bunch of activists who use legal obstructionism to block oil development.

That’s not my supposition about the motives of Earthjustice, by the way. That’s my conclusion from reading their website. The group describes themselves as “opposing infrastructure development that could lock us into decades of dirty fuels.”

“We are working with affected communities to fight pipelines, export terminals and other major infrastructure projects that will spur more gas drilling and burning for decades to come,” the group says in the portion of their website dedicated to describing their work.

In other words, Earthjustice isn’t out to promote safe, responsible oil and gas development, goals all reasonable people share. They don’t want a safe pipeline, per se. Rather, they’re out to choke oil and gas development to death by obstructing energy infrastructure with legal maneuvering.

Again, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe has a significant interest in ensuring that this pipeline is built properly. “The Corps’ approval of the permit allows Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners to dig the Dakota Access pipeline under the Missouri River a half-mile upstream of the reservation and the tribe’s drinking water supply,” Amundson reports.

If the tribe wants to scrutinize in court the approval of this pipeline, which will be built in a place where it could have significant impacts on their community, that’s their right.

But by partnering with Earthjustice the tribe is sending the wrong message to the public. While we can, and should, take seriously the tribe’s interest in a safe and lawfully-approved pipeline project, that priority is going to get lost in Earthjustice’s larger objective which is to kill oil and gas development.

The Standing Rock tribal leadership is doing their people a real disservice by allowing their legal standing to be co-opted by a group with unserious and politically extreme objectives.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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