Comment: Dakota Access - The Politics of Interstate Pipeline Construction

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Comment: Dakota Access - The Politics of Interstate Pipeline Construction

Tue, 09/20/2016 - 09:10
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Bend In Missouri River in North Dakota ( iStock.com/sakakawea7 )
Bend In Missouri River in North Dakota ( iStock.com/sakakawea7 )

As a general proposition, the longer the pipeline the more difficult it is to build it. This is related not just to technical issues surrounding construction. More than ever the success of a particular pipeline project depends on how well the pipeline operator can navigate the political thicket of interest groups along the proposed pipeline route.

Energy Transfer Partners, headquartered in Dallas, Texas has spearheaded the four-state,1886-km Dakota Access project, already constructing more than half the pipeline, which, when completed, would stretch from Stanley, North Dakota, near the Canadian border, to Patoka, in southern Illinois. The company has touted the creation of thousands of new jobs and compensation for landowners who grant access to their property for pipeline construction.

While the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had approved most of the permits for pipeline construction, the native Sioux Indians declared the Corps hurried its decision, did not consult with the indigenous tribes and gave short shrift to environmental and cultural considerations. Of greatest concern is the routing of the pipeline under the Missouri River on a Sioux reservation which straddles North and South Dakota. The tribe argues the pipeline would affect drinking water for the thousands of residents on the reservation and the millions who rely on it downstream.

John Fleck, director of the University of New Mexico Water Resources Program and author of the new book Water is for Fighting Over, has said that this encounter adds to a long history of disregard for Native American water rights. “We’ve done a poor job of recognizing and respecting the rights and values of native communities to water. We can’t keep doing that, both for legal reasons—Indian rights to water have a special legal status in U.S. law—but also for moral reasons.

Last week the Obama administration temporarily suspended further construction on the pipeline, in effect kicking the can down the road until after the next president enters the White House.

It seems certain that a President Trump would approve construction of the pipeline on Indian land. It also seems certain that a President Clinton would exercise great caution before siding in the end with the Sioux.

On Friday, the U.S. Army, the Department of Justice, and the Department of the Interior announced the government would discuss with tribes how “to better ensure meaningful tribal input into infrastructure-related reviews and decisions and the protection of tribal lands, resources, and treaty rights.” With re-routing the pipeline presently not an option it appears both sides will be digging in for months on end.

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