Over the past several months, protests over construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline have grown from a whisper to a feverous roar, both on campus and across the nation. Celebrities, concerned citizens and many University of Michigan students have joined the #NoDAPL movement, which supports the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North Dakota who have led the movement. Protesters have been challenging the pipeline’s path, slated to pass under the Standing Rock Sioux’s main source of water, the Missouri River, and through significant spiritual land. Adding to the controversy, growing protest camps in Standing Rock have been met with water hoses and tear gas from police forces. Because of the unacceptable environmental hazards of oil pipelines, the threat the DAPL poses to water sources for the Sioux and the persistent violation of the Sioux’s sovereign rights, we oppose any further construction of the DAPL.
The pipeline is being built in what is now an era of dangerously rising global temperatures and contempt for the reality of climate change at the highest levels of government, most recently manifested in President-elect Donald Trump’s appointment of a climate change denier to lead the transition at the Environmental Protection Agency. Oil pipelines, in general, present environmental risks, and the DAPL specifically presents deeply unnecessary risks to both local ecologies and a vital water source that runs from North Dakota to Illinois. The International Energy Agency has found that oil pipelines nationwide spilled three times the volume of oil as trains — another method of transporting oil which carries its own risks to local communities and the environment — between 2004 and 2012. A major stakeholder of the DAPL, Enbridge Inc., built the disastrous Line 6B, which dumped 1.2 million gallons of crude oil into the Kalamazoo River, and crude oil spills from pipelines have been shown to harm the environment for years after the initial spill. The DAPL threatens the viability of the Sioux tribe’s water intake for 70 miles down the Missouri River.
The proven dangers of oil transport pipelines call into question the Army Corps of Engineers’ environmental impact assessment of the pipeline that the federal agency released before building began. Both the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agency responsible for issuing permits for construction projects on and near waterways, and Dakota Access LLC, the branch of Energy Transfer Partners building the pipeline, conducted risk assessments and reported that no significant environmental or cultural impact was found. However, the pipeline assessment relied on an outdated 1985 survey of the land that the pipeline would run through, which the Sioux claim omits important burial sites and sacred land, meaning their risk assessments may be largely invalid. In addition, the Army Corps classified the pipeline in such a way that allowed it to issue a special Nationwide Permit 12. This permit process allowed the pipeline to only be assessed in areas where it crossed federally protected lands, bypassing laws intended to preserve culturally significant lands and letting it be built with little federal authorization and oversight from the Army Corps.
In addition to the damage oil spills inflict on local ecologies, the DAPL represents a step backward in the shift toward renewable energy the United States should continue to make. In 2016, job creation in the solar energy field grew 12 times as fast as overall jobs in the United States and surpassed oil and coal jobs. Though Trump has said he would support the pipeline under the premise it will promote the creation of new jobs and stimulate the economy, furthering the development of fossil fuels is the wrong way to go about those goals. The DAPL will produce hundreds of temporary construction jobs, but will only offer a handful of jobs in the long run. If Trump truly cares about infrastructure and job growth, he will encourage renewables instead of the economically deteriorating and environmentally dangerous energy sources like the oil that would be transported by the DAPL.
Building the DAPL would not only be environmentally costly, but also continues to perpetuate the U.S. government’s historic and systematic mistreatment of Native Americans. The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation states federal agencies must consult with Indian tribes if construction projects take place on or affect religiously or culturally significant land. Yet the Sioux assert that the Army Corps rushed the surveying process with the Nationwide Permit 12 and didn’t make significant efforts to include the tribe’s input in construction plans. The pipeline’s path over significant tribal archaeological finds, and the threat it poses to the tribe’s water intake, demonstrate disregard for tribal sovereignty and echo the long history of questionable land grabs from native peoples in U.S. history. The Army Corps must cease authorization for the pipeline if it intends to reconcile with a people long abused by the federal government.
Moving the pipeline away from North Dakota’s capital of Bismarck and to its current path because of concerns over the city’s water supply further shows disregard for the Sioux nation. Though this was likely seen as a simply utilitarian decision, the shifted plans echo government disregard for people of color, which we’ve seen more locally in Flint, Mich. According to the Sioux, the reroute may violate the Clean Water Act and National Environmental Policy Act through the dangers it poses to the Sioux water intake. The government should shut down the DAPL and condemn environmental racism.
Recent clashes between protesters and law enforcement officials in Standing Rock further necessitate the cessation of DAPL construction. The Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council has condemned health dangers posed by police brutality, including police forces’ use of tear gas and water hoses in freezing temperatures, and has filed a lawsuit alleging excessive force. This violence stands in stark contrast to the non-violent police response during the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon by armed white men. The response to the DAPL protests contributes to the problem of excessive police aggression toward marginalized communities.
Stopping construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline is vital to the preservation of our environment and to the well-being of the Standing Rock Sioux. Student activism on this issue is more important than ever, especially in the face of inadequate coverage of the silencing of the protests. We call on the Army Corps of Engineers and Dakota Access LLC to cease construction of the project. For the safety of the local ecology and the dignity of the Sioux community, we ask for a halt to the construction of the DAPL.