It’s time to call off the dogs in North Dakota


Earlier this decade, it was the Keystone XL pipeline project that became the moral epicenter of the environmental movement in this country. And for good reason: the notion that the United States might allow a project to ship some of the dirtiest fuel — oil from the Canadian tar sands — across the American heartland, to meet the lucrative energy needs of overseas markets raised a critical question. If the Obama administration deemed this project acceptable, in a tine of rising carbon levels in the atmosphere and rising sea levels back here on Earth, then what would be considered unacceptable.’

Thankfully, the U.S. government rose to the moral challenge posed by the Keystone XL pipeline and killed the project, probably for good. But now there’s a new challenge facing this nation, and the stakes are even higher. Earlier this year, the U.S, Army Corps of Engineers issued a go-ahead for construction to begin on a $3.8 billion project called the Dakota Access Pipeline, also known as the Bakken pipeline. If completed, the more than 1,000-mile project will criss-cross some of the richest farmland in the American heartland, through North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois. But the environmental risks posed by the Dakota Access Project are exceptional.

The project crosses one of America’s most important river, the Missouri, as well as aquifers that supply the drinking water for millions of resident of the Great Plains states. Additionally, the Dakota Access pipeline construction will result in the desecration of burial grounds and other sacred sites with great spiritual significance for the Sioux and other Native American tribes. And it goes without saying that — as was the case with the Keystone KL pipeline — that the completion of this project will lead to even more burning of fossil fuels, and more carbon pollution.

To hundreds of members of the Standing Rock Sioux, other Native American tribes and many supporters, enough is enough. Currently, protesters are camped out on the rolling hillsides of southern North Dakota, determined to block further work on the project before more sacred lands are bulldozed over. This weekend, their action was met with a cruel and violent response:

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A protest of a four-state, $3.8 billion oil pipeline turned violent after tribal officials say construction crews destroyed American Indian burial and cultural sites on private land in southern North Dakota.

Morton County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Donnell Preskey said four private security guards and two guard dogs were injured after several hundred protesters confronted construction crews Saturday afternoon at the Dakota Access pipeline construction site just outside the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. One of the security officers was taken to a Bismarck hospital for undisclosed injuries. The two guard dogs were taken to a Bismarck veterinary clinic, Preskey said.

Tribe spokesman Steve Sitting Bear said protesters reported that six people had been bitten by security dogs, including a young child. At least 30 people were pepper-sprayed, he said. Preskey said law enforcement authorities had no reports of protesters being injured.

There were no law enforcement personnel at the site when the incident occurred, Preskey said. The crowd dispersed when officers arrived and no one was arrested, she said.

The images coming out of North Dakota this weekend were brutal: They reminded me of the newsreel films and pictures taken in the 1960s of Birmingham sheriff Bull Connor siccing police dogs on civil rights protesters. What happened in North Dakota was no less of a human rights violation. At a minimum, the consortium of Big Oil giants behind this monstrosity of a pipeline need to call off the dogs. This weekend, a judge issued a restraining order that should accomplish that, for now. But once peace is indeed achieved, I hope the Army Corps and other governmental agencies will take a closer look at the Dakota Access pipeline to prevent it from ever bring built. Another big fix for America’s fossil fuel addiction is the last thing this nation needs.

Read more about last weekend’s violent suppression of the North Dakota pipeline protest:

Learn more about the need for worldwide action on fossil fuels in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America

© Stuart H. Smith, LLC 2015 – All Rights Reserved

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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