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Tomgram: Chip Ward, Peace Pipes, Not Oil Pipes

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

In our new political world, the phrase "follow the money" has real meaning. Consider the $1,530,000 that, according to OpenSecrets.org, billionaire Kelcy Warren has personally given away in the 2016 election cycle to influence your vote (or someone's vote anyway). One hundred percent of his dollars, just in case you were curious, have gone to "conservative" candidates, including key congressional Republicans. Warren is a Texas oil pipeline magnate who's wildly rich. According to the Wall Street Journal, "his 23,000-square-foot Dallas mansion, bought for $30 million in 2009, includes a bowling alley and a baseball diamond that features a scoreboard with 'Warren' as one of the teams." As Sue Sturgis of the Institute for Southern Studies wrote recently, "With business partner Ray Davis, co-owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team, Warren built Energy Transfer Equity into one of the nation's largest pipeline companies, which now owns about 71,000 miles of pipelines carrying natural gas, natural gas liquids, refined products, and crude oil. The company's holdings include Sunoco, Southern Union, and Regency Energy Partners."

And as Dr. Seuss used to say, that is not all, oh no, that is not all! Don't forget Energy Transfer Partners, part of the Energy Transfer Equity empire. It's building the embattled Dakota Access Pipeline, which is supposed to bring fracked oil from North Dakota to the Gulf Coast. Through a PAC, it has given at least $288,000 to a bevy of Republican House and Senate candidates. In other words, election 2016 will, among other things, be an oil spill of an election. And should Donald Trump, a man who gives "conflict of interest" new meaning, take the Oval Office by storm and so ride to the rescue of the oil and coal magnates of America with his drill-baby-drill environmental policies, that "investment" will matter even more.

In the meantime, Warren's latest project -- that pipeline across the Dakotas -- has run smack into resistance of an unexpected kind as it approached the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Faced with the prospect of fracked oil in their drinking water, the tribe rallied other tribes (including tribes of environmentalists) and, as of this moment, has miraculously stopped the pipeline dead in its tracks. Think of what's been going on as an Indian version of Occupy Wall Street. As environmentalist and TomDispatch regular Chip Ward points out today, Native Americans, long ago discarded as the dispossessed and forgotten losers of American culture, have returned with a vengeance to protect not just the last wild places on our continent but the rest of us as well. It's one hell of a story and on an overheating planet that, as is increasingly said, needs to "keep it in the ground," it's not just a heartwarming tale, but a matter of life or death. Tom

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Indians and Cowboys
The 2016 Version of an Old Story on a New Planet
By Chip Ward

Cowboys and Indians are at it again.

Americans who don't live in the West may think that the historic clash of Native Americans and pioneering settlers is long past because the Indians were, after all, defeated and now drive cars, watch television, and shop at Walmart. Not so. That classic American narrative is back big time, only the Indians are now the good guys and the cowboys -- well, their rightwing representatives, anyway -- are on the warpath, trying to grab 640 million acres of public lands that they can plunder as if it were yesteryear. Meanwhile, in the Dakotas, America's Manifest Destiny, that historic push across the Great Plains to the Pacific (murdering and pillaging along the way), seems to be making a return trip to Sioux country in a form that could have planetary consequences.

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Energy Transfer Partners is now building the Dakota Access Pipeline, a $3.7 billion oil slick of a project. It's slated to go from the Bakken gas and oil fracking fields in northern North Dakota across 1,100 miles of the rest of the Dakotas and Iowa to a pipeline hub in Illinois. From there, the oil will head for refineries on the Gulf Coast and ultimately, as the emissions from fossil fuels, into the atmosphere to help create future summers so hot no one will forget them. Keep in mind that, according to global warming's terrible new math, there's enough carbon in those Bakken fields to roast the planet -- if, that is, the Sioux and tribes allied with them don't stop the pipeline.

This time, in other words, if the cavalry does ride to the rescue, the heroes on horseback will be speaking Lakota.

Last Stand at Standing Rock

If built as planned, the Dakota Access Pipeline will snake through the headwaters of the Missouri River, a life-giving source of fresh water for millions of people who live downstream, including Native Americans. It's supposed to pass under that river just a few miles from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation that straddles North and South Dakota. Protestors point out that, eventually, the pipeline is likely to leak into that vital watershed and the contamination could prove catastrophic. The Army Corps of Engineers, which green-lighted the project's design, and Energy Transfer Partners have continued to insist that there is no such risk -- even though, suspiciously enough, they decided to change the pipeline's route to avoid the water supply of North Dakota's capital, Bismark. As ever, tribal leaders point out, they were ignored rather than consulted in the planning stages, even though the project was to pass directly through their lands.

When the Keystone XL Pipeline, slated to bring especially carbon-heavy tar sands from Alberta, Canada, to the U.S. Gulf Coast, was killed thanks to years of fierce environmental protests, the stakes were raised for the Dakota Access Pipeline. Keystone was a disaster for the energy industry. In its wake, opponents claim, the new project was fast-tracked without the usual environmental reviews so that construction could be completed before a Keystone-style opposition formed. Fast as they were, it turns out that they weren't fast enough.

Keep in mind that such a project wasn't exactly a first for the native peoples of the region. In the wake of their defeat and confinement to reservations in the nineteenth century, they lived through a profound transformation of their landscape. Settlers let cattle loose on meadows cleared of wolves, cougars, and bears. The rude stamp of progress followed: fences, roads, dams, mines, sawmills, railroads, power lines, towns, condos, resorts, and in the twenty-first century, vistas increasingly pockmarked with fracking's drill rigs and service roads.

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In the Dakota prairies, hundreds of species of grass and flowers were replaced by monocultures of soy and corn, while millions of cattle were substituted for herds of free-roaming bison. As recently as the 1950s and 1960s, the neighboring Sioux and Cheyenne lost 200,000 more acres of valuable reservation farmland to dams built without their permission. Entire villages had to relocate. The Dakota Access Pipeline is just the latest of these assaults and yet, in every way, it's potentially more disastrous. As Lakota Chairman David Archambault puts it, "To poison water is to poison the substance of life."

Slaughter, internment, and neglect were bad enough, say tribal leaders, but threatening the people's life-giving water was the last straw. As a result, thousands of Native Americans drawn from 280 tribes across the country and even around the world are now camping out at the construction site where the Dakota Access Pipeline nears the tip of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Almost two million signatures have been gathered on a petition opposing the pipeline; dozens of environmental groups have signed on to the resistance; and tribes nationwide have expressed their solidarity.

On September 3rd, the private security guards hired by Energy Transfer Partners used pepper spray and dogs on those trying to block the pipeline. This eruption of violence halted work until U.S. District Judge James Boasberg could rule on the tribe's request for an injunction to block construction while its case was heard in court. On September 9th, while conceding that "the United States' relationship with Indians has been contentious and tragic," he denied that request. Then, in a move described even by the Sioux as stunning, the Obama administration suddenly stepped between the protesters and the pipeline construction crews. The Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior, and even the Army Corps of Engineers called for a halt to the process until the permitting procedure could be reviewed.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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