Many of us are rejoicing that the Army Corps of Engineers has announced that it will not be granting the easement to cross Lake Oahe for the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline. We have many Episcopalians who are members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Scores of our clergy and lay people have made the journey to stand in solidarity with these heroic “water protectors” in recent days. This pipeline cuts diagonally across the entire state of Iowa where I live and endangers both the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers should there be an oil spill.
I am aware that many believe that transporting even this particularly dirty oil through a pipeline is actually safer than by rail or trucks, but the difficulty in cleaning up an underground spill, leaching almost immediately into the ground water is much more difficult than cleaning up a spill above ground, however challenging that may prove to be.
It was actually the tribal youth who initiated this resistance movement, but thousands came to the camp to support them and millions around the world have rallied to their cause – which is to protect not only the water supply from potential pollution from an oil spill, but their sacred burial sites. Imagine the outcry if an oil company sought to dig up parts of Arlington National Cemetery for a “Washington Access Pipeline!”
President Obama, the Army Corps, the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior finally took the steps necessary to do the right thing in this matter. But many of us are extremely disappointed that the Administration waited so long to take action. This could have been done months ago rather than waiting until the winter began to set in with a vengeance. Hastier decision-making could have also avoided the few incidents of violence on the part of the young protectors and the predictable over-reaction by law enforcement.
What I am really concerned about, however, is that the tardiness of this decision does not give time for its implementation to settle in before the Trump Administration takes over in January. The President-elect has expressed his support for the pipeline on numerous occasions and reports are that Trump owns shares of stock in either Energy Transfer Partners and/or Sunoco Logistics Partners, the corporations behind the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Trump’s picks for Cabinet positions so far do not give great hope as to who he might appoint as Secretary of the Interior (who would have some say in whether or not to overturn this recent decision). And Senator Jeff Sessions, Trump’s pick for Attorney General, will surely support any suggested roll-back of the Army Corps of Engineers’ move. A reversal would simply be one more example to Native Americans of broken treaties and promises reneged upon by the United States Government to the original inhabitants of this land.
We will be watching with interest to see how this turns out, Mr. Trump. In fact, you may rest assured that many will be watching everything you do in the upcoming months. We hope you will make the right decision on this one.