The recent news that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved nearly all the permits for the Dakota Access dirty oil pipeline, while disappointing, was not a surprise.
The Corps has a long history of going against the wishes and health of tribal nations – by putting our water resources, our climate and our communities at risk – in favor of fossil fuel interests. This is enabled by the Nationwide Permit No. 12 process, which is a blanket permit it can use to fast-track the construction of massive pipelines by artificially treating them as thousands of small, individual projects that are exempt from the environmental review required by the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. As the fossil fuel industry has begun to realize that the more the public learns about these projects, the more the public opposes them, they have increasingly looked to this process because it shuts out public input and allows dangerous crude oil and fracked gas pipelines to be approved behind closed doors.
Now this is exactly what has just happened with Dakota Access, a massive crude oil pipeline that would extend 1,168 miles across North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois, crossing through communities, farms, tribal land, sensitive natural areas and wildlife habitat. The pipeline would travel through the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s ancestral lands and pass within half a mile of its current reservation. Not only would this threaten sacred sites and culturally important landscapes, it would also be dug under the Missouri River, just upstream of the Tribe’s drinking water supply. 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.
The Corps utterly failed in consulting with tribal nations on the impacts and route of Dakota Access, as required by federal law. The Corps’ Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact completely ignored the fact that tribes have stated that the surveys conducted on the pipeline route were deeply flawed and inadequate. And furthermore, three other federal agencies all sent letters to the Corps, asking it to adhere to federal policy of consultation, raising environmental justice concerns.
As we continue to fight in the courtroom and in the streets to protect our waterways and communities from the Dakota Access Pipeline, we must also acknowledge that the problem we face is much greater than this one pipeline. If we do not change this process, it will continue to be used to rubber-stamp oil and gas pipelines, ignoring the intent of our laws and presenting an ongoing threat to our water resources, our communities, and our climate.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is currently considering renewing Nationwide Permit No. 12, and so now they have an opportunity to revoke this fast-track permit for pipelines and restore the meaningful review process that the law requires.
For too long, the Corps has issued a blank check to big oil to build its dirty crude oil projects anywhere it wants. If we hope to protect our water resources, our Indigenous rights, our communities and our climate, now is the time to cancel that check.
Dallas Goldtooth is the Keep It In The Ground Campaign Organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network memberships.