President Obama ordered an Environmental Impact Statement to be conducted on the full length of the Dakota Access Oil Pipeline (DAPL) in his final days in office. This would allow a full cost-benefit analysis to be done and consider input from tribes who would be impacted by the pipeline.
President Obama’s mandate for a full Environmental Impact State (EIS) reversed an earlier U.S. Army Corps approval process that emboldened Energy Transfer Partners (the fossil fuel firm conveying fracked oil from the Canadian border across the Dakotas to a refinery in Illinois) to begin construction of the pipeline in anticipation of a full approval. As a result, over 90 percent of the pipeline is already constructed. That earlier process, President Obama concluded, was a flawed and accelerated one that did not sufficiently evaluate the nature of the pipeline infrastructure in full, nor include, with sufficient weight, input from tribes. (This was a direct reference to protests by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe to protect their lands and waters which were directly in the pipeline trajectory. The one section of DAPL that has not yet been constructed runs under a stretch of the Missouri River called Lake Oahe, which is right at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation).
Rather than considering the over 1,000-mile pipeline across the heartland of the United States as a single entity, the U.S. Army Corps treated the pipeline as a series of mini sections. This is considered a fast-track, easier way to permit projects; individual permits are less onerous to secure for smaller sections. The mini sections qualify for a ‘nationwide permit’, a type of permit used for a discreet development (say, a residential neighborhood). This circumvents the true nature of the project: massive infrastructure that ties the nation to a carbon-linked future, with massive air and climate consequences, and potential consequences for rivers and drinking water.
The EIS is an honored, legally-codified, “American Democracy” way of including civic voices and civil service voices in decisions about commerce and infrastructure construction in the nation. Once a full EIS is put in motion, the process is legally protected and must be carried out in full. It is a time-consuming effort that allows/requires many stakeholders to weigh in on the merits and demerits of the proposed infrastructure. Multiple government agencies such as Agriculture, the Department of Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Energy Regulatory Commission, and the Environmental Protection Agency whose jurisdictions are touched by the pipeline, are consulted. Each provides a detailed analysis of how their constituents are impacted. Public comment is also included in the effort. Citizens of this nation are invited to express their concerns and thoughts about engineering infrastructure that will install thousands of miles of pipeline to convey crude oil across our farm fields, suburbs, parks, archaeological sites, and through our waterbodies–rivers and aquifers–that sustain millions of people and precious wildlife and natural resources.
Supporters of Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and thousands of demonstrators attend a protest against DAPL in Los Angeles, United States on December 10, 2016. (Photo by Aydin Palabiyikoglu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
My friend Mark prompted me that I had until February 20, 2017 to write input to the U.S. Army Corps’ EIS, because he knew how much I cared about the river especially after my visit to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Just as I finished composing my letter (below) to the U.S. Army Corps, I read news breaking on social media that President Trump’s acting Secretary of the Army announced he would set aside the entire EIS and give Energy Transfer Partners the final easement they need to drill through Lake Oahe and complete the pipeline. What a blow! Even though we knew something like that was coming! I felt disappointment and heartache for the people of Standing Rock and for millions of Americans who resist the pipeline and have fought valiently, putting their bodies in harm’s way, to prevent exactly such a thing. So with heavy heart, and armed only with words, I am putting my letter out on social media, on the Internet, into the universe, and sending it to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. I send it in the hope that this letter will join with thousands of others to birth a different story for this country, where dirty oil profits do not trump every other value and every other concern for life.
As I contemplated the crushing sadness of yet another crude oil pipeline that will inevitably crack and leak toxic pollution in our waters, another news feed popped up, this time announcing the Standing Rock Tribe’s statement which challenged the ‘go-ahead’ on the DAPL easement. It said, “The Army Corps lacks statutory authority to simply stop the EIS and issue the easement.” Those simple words lit up some hope.
The following is my written contribution to the EIS on DAPL. I hope my words create a space for broader thinking about leaving behind fracked oil infrastructure, and moving to a clean, non-carbon future filled with jobs and prosperity that don’t leave a legacy of pollution. Please file your own letter to the EIS, there are online forms which allow you to do so with just a mouse click.
Mr. Gib Owen
Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works
108 Army Pentagon
Washington, DC 20310-0108
Re: NOI Comments, Dakota Access Pipeline Crossing
Dear Mr. Owen,
Thank you for including my following comment in the EIS on the Dakota Access Oil Pipeline (DAPL).
The fundamental point I want to make is that U.S. energy futures and employment in the energy sector, lie in renewable sources rather than oil and petroleum. Fortune magazine reports in January 2017, that the solar and wind industries are each creating jobs at a rate 12 times faster than that of the rest of the U.S. economy. In the electric power generation sector according to the US Department of Energy, the solar industry employed nearly 374,000 people in 2015-16 — double the number of jobs in oil, coal and gas combined. Internationally, given that the world is moving towards climate friendly economic transformations, the focus on renewable energy will help keep us competitive with nations such as China, which has spent over $360 billion on renewable energy taking global climate leadership as well as creating millions of jobs.
The chase for oil from dirty, fracked sources solely benefits fossil fuel companies and the politicians they have bribed. DAPL’s fracked oil is too dirty and not profitable enough to be sold here in the U.S. It is solely intended for foreign markets. Yet, the United States bears all the risks and costs associated with the pipeline infrastructure.
The continued investment in fracked oil, with long-term industrial infrastructure and pipelines, serves no greater good in this country. The greatest assets in this nation are our great protected natural resources–our soils and waters. Piping fracked oil has been shown again and again to inevitably, irreversibly, pollute precious freshwater aquifers and rivers. It makes no sense that we return to a world of burning rivers and toxically polluted waters. Other countries which have polluted theirs pay a high price in terms of quality of life and human health.
The impacts of the inevitable spills and disasters from DAPL will be too dreadful to want to imagine. First to suffer will be the sovereign native nation in this land, whose people have been here for thousands of years. This pipeline is an insult both to them and to us because we are now one joint family and community. We bear a shameful responsibility for the lethal repression that European colonizers used on the native people’s ancestors, barely 100 years ago. Beyond Standing Rock, U.S. citizens down the entire Mississippi River basin will suffer, be forced to buy expensive bottled water to drink and bathe in, while the fossil fuel companies who plan to make cheap profits off this pipeline will wring their hands and feign distress for T.V. cameras. Energy Transfer Partners CEO and his crony Board members don’t care if millions of people have to suffer; they don’t care if they wipe out beautiful birds and fish; they don’t care about our nation.
But you, our valient civil servants in the U.S. Army Corps who defend this nation, do care. There has to be more value to our nation’s heritage and culture than the cheap profit that this fossil fuel company plans to make by endangering and polluting our nation. Stop this DAPL. It is an outrage and an insult to the United States.
I am saddened to hear that the Trump administration has arbitrarily circumvented this entire EIS. In the time I have written this letter, the entire history of the United States has been shafted in the direction of regressive, dirty oil policies. Please do what you can to bring progress to the United States, and turn us away from regressive dirty oil.