With the help of celebrities and professional activists, protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota have attracted international attention. The shouting and violence have drawn sympathy from people who are hearing only one side of the story — the one told by activists. Were the full story to be heard, much, if not all, of that sympathy would vanish.
The activists tell an emotionally-charged tale of greed, racism, and misbehavior by corporate and government officials. But the real story of the Dakota Access Pipeline was revealed in court documents in September, and it is nothing like the activists’ tale. In fact, it is the complete opposite.
The record shows that Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the pipeline, spent years working diligently with federal, state, and local officials to route the pipeline safely and with the fewest possible disruptions. The contrast between the protesters’ claims and the facts on record is stunning.
Protesters claim that the pipeline was “fast-tracked,” denying tribal leaders the opportunity to participate in the process. In fact, project leaders participated in 559 meetings with community leaders, local officials, and organizations to listen to concerns and fine-tune the route. The company asked for, and received, a tougher federal permitting process at sites along the Missouri River. This more difficult procedure included a mandated review of each water crossing’s potential impact on historical artifacts and locations.
Protesters claim that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to consult tribal leaders as required by federal law. The record shows that the corps held 389 meetings with 55 tribes. Corps officials met numerous times with leaders of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, which initiated the lawsuit and the protests.
Protesters claim that the Standing Rock Sioux pursued meetings with an unresponsive Army Corps of Engineers. Court records show that the roles in that story were in fact reversed. The corps alerted the tribe to the pipeline permit application in the fall of 2014 and repeatedly requested comments from and meetings with tribal leaders only to be rebuffed over and over again. Tribal leaders ignored requests for comment and canceled meetings multiple times.
In September of 2014 alone, the corps made five unsuccessful attempts to meet with Standing Rock Sioux leaders. The next month, a meeting was arranged, but “when the Corps timely arrived for the meeting, Tribal Chairman David Archambault told them that the conclave had started earlier than planned and had already ended,” according to a federal judge. At a planned meeting the next month, the tribe took the pipeline off the agenda and refused to discuss it. This stonewalling by tribal leaders continued for a year and a half.
Typical of the misinformation spread during the protests is a comment made by Jesse Jackson, who recently joined the activists in North Dakota. He said the decision to reroute the pipeline so that it crossed close to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s water intake was “racism.”
The pipeline route was adjusted based on concerns expressed by locals — including other tribal leaders — who met with company and Army Corps of Engineers officials. The court record reveals that the Standing Rock Sioux refused to meet with corps officials to discuss the route until after site work had begun. That work is now more than 85 percent completed at a cost of over $3 billion.
In response to a lawsuit filed by the Standing Rock Sioux, the court documented “dozens of attempts” by the corps to consult with the tribe. It documented the legal and proper approval process the corps used to permit all of the contested construction sites the tribe claimed were improperly permitted. It even documented evidence that the corps had exceeded the minimum legal requirements during its earnest and lengthy efforts to receive the input of tribal leaders on the pipeline.
Pipeline protesters may have a tight grip on media coverage of the pipeline, but they have a demonstrably loose grip on the facts. The truth — as documented not by the company but by the federal court system is that pipeline approvals were not rushed, permits were not granted illegally, and tribal leaders were not excluded. These are proven facts upheld by two federal courts.
If only this side of the story were getting the same attention as the other side. Perhaps judges should start announcing their rulings by megaphone while standing beside a few media-attracting celebrities.