American Indian tribes are rising up against pipeline projects

From ToxicLeaks

Many indigenous tribes of the United States are coming together to fight huge pipeline projects that will sooner or later destroy the environment they depend on and desecrate lands they hold holy and that the treaties they signed with the US government swore to protect. Intense corporate pressure is at play and their victims are finding next to no backing from the Obama administration who could stop these projects just as it stopped the Keystone XL pipeline. Far from losing heart, the tribes are fighting even harder and have brought their fight to the courts who have decided to suspend one major project.

Pipelines that will destroy natural and holy areas[edit | edit source]

What are the indigenous tribes of Dakota and Texas up against ? The main threats are two pipeline projects led by the company Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) based in Dallas. This company has already begun the construction of the Trans-Pecos pipeline that will link Texas to Mexico and carry natural gas. The path of this pipeline crosses the very sensitive and vulnerable area of the Big Bend, that is still an exquisite and wild region, but for how long ? Furthermore, the pipeline construction will have a disruptive impact on lands sacred to the Apache people that live in the area. Roberto Lujan, a Jumano-Apache protestor, stresses the importance of the region for his people : “We consider this whole area sacred. This is sacred, pristine land out here, and there is a site that is going to be bulldozed pretty soon”. Archeologist David Keller adds that ETP has only looked for the presence of cultural artifacts in the upper layers of the soil, about one foot deep, whereas this kind of artifacts is typically found at least three feet under ground.

The other pipeline that indigenous tribes are fighting against is the Dakota Access Pipeline, that will carry oil from North Dakota to Illinois, after having crossed South Dakota and Iowa. This pipeline will also be built by ETP, which has motivated the Sioux tribes from North Dakota to join forces with tribes from Texas and fight all the ETP projects that will destroy indigenous lands. For the Sioux, the main threat is water because the Dakota Access Pipeline will cross the Missouri river upstream of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. And oil pipelines have a tendency to leak, which could lead to a terrible pollution of the water that the Sioux residents depend on to live.

The resistance of the tribes faces incredible corporate violence[edit | edit source]

The indigenous tribes impacted by these ETP projects have decided to fight them and use every peaceful means of resistance they could think of. They have been joined by lawyers and environmentalist groups. In August, 31 green groups wrote to ask President Obama to remove the permit granted to build the Dakota Access Pipeline. In this letter, the groups stressed that "If there were to be a spill — which history has taught us is not a question of ‘if’ but ’when’ — it would constitute an existential threat to the tribe’s culture and way of life". They added that "[t]he pipeline poses significant threats to the environment, public health, and tribal and human rights." However ETP is fighting dirty. Privately hired security forces are brought in to silence the protestors, and they use vicious violence to achieve their goal. For example, early September, security guards from the Dakota Access site used pepper sprays and assault dogs to disperse the Sioux protesters. According to Jonni Joyce, an expert in law enforcement canine handling, the dogs were used in a horrific way : “what it looked like was a bunch of alligators at the end of leashes being put on the Native Americans there that are protesting”. On the video, one dog emerges with his nose and mouth dripping with blood, a symbol of the ruthless tactics ETP is ready to use to push their pipelines despite the resistance of the tribes that occupy these areas. How is ETP getting away with this ? It might have something to do with the indecent amounts the company has been spending on building political support to their disgusting endeavours.

A massive lobbying to secure political sympathy[edit | edit source]

If political institutions look the other way when corporations are bullying populations, it usually means that a big fat bribe has been paid. And the case of ETP's pipelines is no exception. The CEO of the company, Kelcy Warren, has been a staunch supporter of Texas conservative leaders such as Rick Perry, the former governor of the state. In 2012, he contributed $250,000 to Perry's Super PAC, and in 2016 he upped his donation to $6 million, while making Rick Perry a member of ETP's board of directors. Besides, ETP has also built a nice and cosy relationship with three Republican members of the Texas Railroad Commission, the main regulatory body of the state for networks. One can imagine how giving $225,000 toward the election of these Republicans might have helped to convince them to support ETP's projects. This has been strategic in securing the Trans-Pecos Pipeline project that is currently being built. And ETP isn't the only corporation involved. Other fossil fuel companies are working with ETP, such as Enbridge and Phillips 66, that are both stakeholders of the Dakota Access Pipeline project and notorious polluters : in 2010, a pipeline owned by Enbridge leaked more than 3 million litres of oil in the Kalamazoo river in Michigan, and caused an environmental nightmare. And of course, one must also factor in the banks, that have greedily extended billions of dollars of credit, hoping for a massive return on investment. Major players of the financial sector work with ETP, namely Citibank, Wells Fargo, BNP Paribas, SunTrust, Royal Bank of Scotland, Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi, Mizuho Bank, TD Securities, ABN AMRO Capital, DNB First Bank, ICBC London, SMBC Nikko Securities and Société Générale. All these corporations are using their influence to bend the will of decision-makers and make these pipeline projects happen, no matter how nefarious they might be for the people whose lives they will directly impact.

The pipeline was approved just before new guidelines restrict future pipelines
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This corporate influence became excessively visible during the summer. On August the 1st, the White House issued new regulations that made an impact study mandatory for pipeline projects. Only it came one week after the Dakota Access Pipeline had been approved by the Army Corps of Engineers. There is no way the timing was due to chance. The Dakota Access Pipeline, which should never have been approved, was pushed through at the last second and the White House deliberately decided to release these new regulations too late to stop this terrible project. The main justification for this approval was that billions of dollars had already been spent on preparatory work pending approval. But when ETP began construction in May before it received approval, regulators had warned the company that they were doing it “at their own risk”, and that the government could not be held responsible if the project didn't receive the authorization from the administration. And yet they still decided to start the work despite this warning. And now the money they spent should matter more than the lives of the people whose land will be damaged if the pipeline is built.

The tribes are using every mean they can to slow down the projects[edit | edit source]

The tribes have used every mean they can to stop the projects. The Standing Rock Sioux have seen that the Obama administration isn't backing their fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline and they have called the courts to rule against ETP's pipeline and the massive environmental risk it would create for the area and the tribes that live in it. They have filed suit in July, on the grounds that the pipeline will threaten their “environmental and economic well-being and would damage and destroy sites of great historic, religious and cultural significance to the tribe.” However, the tribes face an army of lawyers hired by the consortium lead by ETP and Judge James Boasberg denied their request, ruling in favour of money over the interest of ordinary folk. This has not discouraged the Standing Rock Sioux which are now bringing the case to an appeals court which has ordered the suspension of the project while they consider their request. This strategy has helped to gain time and prevent the construction work from moving ahead and inflicting further damage to the area. Likewise, the tribes opposed to the Trans-Pecos project are continuing to gather support against this project, even though the construction is well under way. Texan celebrities such as Peter Coyote, Tommy Lee Jones, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Randy Jackson, Sara Hickman and Gurf Morlix were featured in an ad criticizing the Trans-Pecos project in the Dallas Morning News.This is enabling the tribes threatened by these two projects to maintain media coverage on these pipelines, and force the Obama administration and the Clinton candidacy to finally take a stand on these issues.

Democratic leaders can't remain silent to the call of the tribes[edit | edit source]

The absence of decision from the Obama administration is dumbfounding. This presidency has advocated a historical shift from fossil fuels, has pledged to implement a significant reduction of carbon emissions during the Paris Conference, Obama has given numerous speeches on the imperious need to stop relying on these old and dirty energy sources, and yet these projects have been approved even though they go against the ideals that have been promoted during these two presidential terms. Another astonishing feature of these issues is that President Obama has been the first president to ever go to a North Dakota Reservation in 2014. That visit was the symbol of the will to improve the situation of minorities in the country and especially the situation of American Indians. However, when the Dakota Access Pipeline project was submitted to the administration, President Obama failed to put his words in action and let this project be approved even though it will wreck the environment the reservation depends upon. A consistent presidency would not have allowed this project after having rightfully blocked the Keystone XL pipeline, that was only 7 miles longer than the Dakota Access Pipeline ! And the same logic applies to presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. She advocates doing climate change tests before approving any fossil fuel related projects. So she should take a stand against these two pipelines and pledge to block them until they have passed such a test, which will reveal the dark truth, that they will constitute a grave danger for the environment of the areas they cross and that they will contribute to a perilous increase in global carbon emissions that we will have pay the price for.