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Carina Dominguez
Indian Country Today

NDN Collective released a damning climate justice report Tuesday on the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, the same day as World Water Day.

In a detailed analysis, the Climate Justice Campaign calls on the Biden administration to drain and shut down the pipeline, which the roughly 200-page report argues would protect the nation’s longest river, the Missouri River, and its basin. The report is drawn from court documents, treaties, government documents, news stories, congressional hearings and more.

The purpose of the “Faulty Infrastructure and the Impacts of the North Dakota Access Pipeline” report is to inform and engage industry decision makers, policy makers and the public on the facts and nuances around three major areas:

  1. Tribal treaty rights;
  2. Engineering and construction flaws of DAPL that threaten tribal sovereignty; and
  3. Six continuous years of failed U.S. Army Corps of Engineers processes.

“The vision of this report is to hold accountable these agencies to their own regulations, to their own laws, to their own climate agendas, but also to support our communities in understanding the regulatory processes and the laws so that we can push against them, or hold these agency accountable to their own laws,” said NDN Collective’s Climate Justice Campaign Director Jade Begay, Diné. Begay also sits on the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council.

Begay noted how the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe opted out as a cooperating agency in the environmental review process. This happened after the tribe was repeatedly denied access to information, which the report details.

The tribal nation didn’t immediately respond to Indian Country Today’s attempts for a comment.

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NDN Collective Climate Justice Organizer Kailea Frederick, Tahltan and Kaska, said draining and shutting down the pipeline would send a clear message to its operator, Energy Transfer, and other companies like it: It’s not okay to violate treaties or environmental protection laws. People, water and the land must be respected, Frederick said.

“The current routing of the Dakota Access Pipeline is a blatant suppression of treaty rights and free, prior and informed consent,” Frederick said.

A recent U.N. report states climate change is already “causing widespread disruption in nature and affecting the lives of billions of people around the world” and calls for urgent action to adapt to climate change and to make deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

(Related: UN report: Climate change is already major disruption)

“It is actually a conversation on life and death,” Frederick said. “The other voices in the room that continue to try to dominate the conversation are trying to give an illusion that we have more options and more time than we do. And the reality of climate change is that we actually have very few options and we have very limited time to get it right.”

There’s been years of community resistance against the Dakota Access pipeline and recently the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe claimed a legal victory in the case.

Indigenous water protectors and allies blocked the pipeline for months starting in 2016 and were met with violence.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe sued Energy Transfer over National Environmental Policy Act violations. A district court judge ruled a new Environmental Impact Statement would be required by the company. The Supreme Court denied Energy Transfer’s bid to thwart environmental oversight.

The new environmental impact statement is due in September and a public comment period will open up after that.

NDN Collective will issue a call to action at that time and help the public navigate the public comment requirements because comments must meet strict guidelines that specifically deal with the underwater pipeline crossing on Lake Oahe.

But the possibility of shutting down the pipeline entirely is left up to the executive branch and the Biden administration has so far refused to do so.

Begay questions if the policies and proposals in the Build Back Better Plan and the Green New Deal will be enough to help with a needed paradigm shift.

“The paradigm shift of not consuming as much, staying home more, being more localized, valuing getting around and living our lives without fossil fuels – and plastics,” Begay said.

Frederick said “we don't have a choice at this moment in time other than to think about how we're going to live our lives differently and how we're going to descale.”

NDN Collective releases Dakota Access Pipeline report on World Water Day. The organization worked on the report for over a year. It offers the most thorough, and critical, analysis of the DAPL project yet. (Courtesy of NDN Collective)

“Indigenous peoples need to see the government acting in good faith and so one action towards that is taking action around DAPL and reducing the flow and eventually abandoning the pipeline. That's our demand,” Begay said.

The NDN Collective report took more than a year to develop in “consultation with an array of skilled and respected industry Indigenous and non-Indigenous specialists who also possess intimate knowledge of the DAPL.”

“It feels like a very big responsibility to get it right, on many different levels,” Frederick said.

The environmental impact statement requires the public’s participation to determine its contents but the report found that didn’t happen with the DAPL project.

“Previously, through the EIS process, there was a time that they would sit down with tribes and strategize together and this process was called scoping. And with the DAPL process, this did not happen,” Frederick said.

The report is critical of how the Army Corps of Engineers has carried out “flawed” processes.

“The way that the entirety of the DAPL process has gone even just now that this pipeline is operating illegally without the right permitting, it really sets the precedent for the other future types of projects,” Frederick said. “If this specific issue around DAPL is not corrected and if this pipeline is not drained and shut down, that it lets other agencies know or companies know that it's okay to operate in this way with our people on our lands. And the truth is that it's not okay. And that it is a true violation of treaties.”

The report states the Army Corps lacks “transparency by continuing to withhold critical technical information requested repeatedly by the Tribes while hiding under the guise of “national security”.

One of the major concerns listed in the report is an “independent third-party.” A contractor that is meant to be neutral in the environmental review process has blatant financial ties to the oil and gas industry through membership in the American Petroleum Institute, according to the report.

The report calls for transparency and diligent assessments on the impact of the DAPL project.

Five key elements are:

1. Challenge the legitimacy of the DAPL on Indian land – Treaty Rights
2. Approval of DAPL continues as modern-day dispossession of Indigenous people
3. Army Corps and the Trump era NEPA
4. Major DAPL routing, engineering, spill risk, and safety issues
5. Failure to adequately address environmental justice

“We feel really grateful that our campaign has been able to steward this report coming out into the world,” Frederick said.

She’s looking forward to seeing how tribes and other organizations utilize the material compiled in the report.

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