News that the Obama administration finally acted to mitigate the mayhem in North Dakota and forestall the ill-conceived Dakota Access Pipeline was cause for celebration for Native American Water Defenders and constitution defenders alike. As well it should have been.
The stand at Cannonball, North Dakota, on the banks of the Missouri River was one of most courageous, determined, and successful civil disobedience protest actions seen in the U.S. in recent years. It was a huge and badly needed victory for the entire American environmental action community.
In the face of overwhelming odds, using strict Gandhian nonviolent confrontation techniques, under extraordinarily harsh conditions and brutal abuse at the hands of heavily militarized police, local Native American activists joined by a rainbow coalition of supporters and military veterans from around the country defied all odds and came away with a smashing victory and, more importantly, a blueprint for community-based resistance in 21st century America.
Now Comes Trump
Remember, in assessing what Donald Trump might do, that "the joker is wild." Trump is nothing if not unpredictable. At one moment an outspoken admirer of traditional fascist philosophies and in the next a benevolent populist in a manner that recalls Argentina's self-styled bully-savior Juan Peron's rein of bread and truncheons.
Pipeline constructors, Energy Transfer Partners, and Sunoco Logistics Partners have already issued a response to the Army Corps' decision to withhold permits for the pipeline pending an Environmental Impact Statement with "full public input and analysis." The response is a masterpiece of lawyer-speak, laying the groundwork for legally challenging the Army Corps and saying indirectly that the Army's announcement means nothing and they will proceed as planned when the new administration is sworn in.
The underlying assertion is that action taken by the Obama administration and the Army Corps is meaningless. False. As we will soon learn from environmental legal advocates, an "Environmental Impact Statement with full public input and analysis" is non-trivial. Producing such a study with comprehensive public input will take a significant amount of time and be open to legal challenges and appeals.
The other option for pipeline constructors is simply to proceed regardless -- that is to say, continue construction of the pipeline without permits. Such an action, while brazen and unlawful, might only draw a fine. Something the partners probably might consider money well spent at this juncture.
The Dakota Access Pipeline is an oil pipeline, but it is also a cash pipeline. The 1,172-mile, 30-inch diameter environmental catastrophe-waiting-to-happen is a burden and an injustice to residents in its path, but to investors waiting at the other end it represents a river of cash flowing into their coffers.
The profits that stand to be realized more than guarantee that the DAPL is not going away any time soon. The local "well-regulated-militias" are only too happy to "enforce the law" that facilitates construction even while ignoring the laws that protect the rights of local residents impacted by the project.
So celebrate a important victory. Learn from the failures and successes that defined this great battle and prepare for the next assault.
It is surely coming.
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