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  November 3, 2016

Re-routing Dakota Access Pipeline Won't Make it Less Dangerous to the Environment or Climate

President Obama says it should be rerouted, but Greenpeace's Jesse Coleman warns that oil pipelines are inherently unsafe
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Jesse Coleman is a research specialist with Greenpeace's investigation team. His focus is the oil and gas industry, campaign finance, and climate change. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Guardian, MSNBC, and the Washington Post.

Photo Credit: Joe Brusky, flickr (


KIM BROWN, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Kim Brown in Baltimore.

The fight over the Dakota Access Pipeline intersects a lot of very relevant issues including civil rights, environmental justice, the power of the state, and big corporate interests. Currently protestors have continued to stand their ground on what they say are tribal lands of the Standing Rock Sioux and this is against the Dakota Access Transfer Partners which is the company that is constructing the pipeline. After another weekend of dozens of arrests and police aggression, President Barack Obama made another statement about the pipeline’s future in North Dakota.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I think as a general rule, my view is that there is way for us to accommodate sacred lands of Native Americans and I think right now the Army Corps is examining whether there are ways to reroute this pipeline in a way. So we're going to let it play out for several more weeks and determine whether or not this can be resolved in a way that I think is properly attentive to the traditions of the first Americans.

BROWN: That video was curtesy of Now This. Now a number of environmental activist groups have condemned the President’s statement including Food and Water Watch and Greenpeace. Today we are joined with a researcher from Greenpeace, Jesse Coleman who is joining us today from Boston. Jesse, thanks so much for being here.

JESSE COLEMAN: Thanks for having me on.

BROWN: Jesse on Greenpeace’s website they have an action posted calling for the President to rescind and deny the permits granted to the Dakota Acces Transfer Partners who are trying to construct this pipeline. Why is simply rerouting the pipeline not good enough for Greenpeace?

COLEMAN: Well I mean first of all this is what the Standing Rock Sioux are asking for. They say that the government did not properly talk to the tribe to get their permission initially to start constructing this pipeline and they’re asking for this permit to be outright rejected. You know Greenpeace’s position is that we A) want to stand with Standing Rock and we want to stand with the Standing Rock Sioux. B) these, pipelines, they’re inherently dangerous. It’s going to have to cross the Missouri River at some point. It’s going to have to cross this vital source of drinking water and it’s never going to be safe. There will always be a likelihood that it’s going to leak. So, combining both what the people that are going to be affected by this are asking for and the inherent danger of these pipelines, we say it’s a no go.

BROWN: President Obama in that video also said that he’s going to let the situation play out for several more weeks. In several more weeks he’s no longer going to be president of the United States. We will have elected a new administration. So what is the likelihood that either a President Hillary Clinton or a President Donald Trump will take action on behalf of the Standing Sioux against the Dakota Pipeline?

COLEMAN: Well we released a report earlier this week that found that Donald Trump in fact has significant financial interests directly in the companies that are building this pipeline. Not only that but the CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, the main company that’s building this pipeline has given many thousands of dollars to Donald Trump campaign. So, we kind of have an idea of how Donald Trump would probably handle this situation. He seems to be someone that remembers who his friends are and does not seem overly concerned with that would be trampled by the decision to continue this pipeline.

With Hillary Clinton obviously it’s a little bit more nuanced. We’re not sure exactly what she would do. We’ve seen through some of these email leaks and other things that she doesn’t have. She says I want to support pipelines. I’m not against pipelines. So, I think it’s going to take a consistent push from the grassroots, from people across the country to convince a potential president Hillary Clinton that this is not something that should go forward.

BROWN: You know the Standing Rock Sioux and all the protestors that have gathered in North Dakota to help advance the position that they have been standing firm on seem to be validated in the wake of yet another pipeline spill or rather an explosion. This one coming again in Alabama from the Colonial pipeline which I believe had a spill last month and now with this explosion that from last reports have at least taken one life. Now according to the pipeline hazardous materials safety administration, there have been 220 major pipeline spills this yaer alone. So the issue of pipeline safety is something that is definitely need to be addressed further.

COLEMAN: Yea absolutely. They say that there is for every one regulator for the pipeline regulator agency of the United States, there is enough pipeline that that one person oversees to encircle the entire earth. I mean we’re in kind of a situation where our regulators have let us down by not having a higher standard for protecting people from really dangerous fossil fuel infrastructure projects like pipelines. You know the acute danger of these pipelines which is well known, we’ve all heard of the impacts of say the Enbridge spill of the Kalamazoo River or this really recent gasoline spill in Alabama. But you know there’s also the fact that these pipelines, once they’re built are going to cause more carbon pollution, more greenhouse gas pollution. It’s a major climate issue. We shouldn’t be building these pipeline infrastructure projects even if they were completely safe and they’re very far from completely safe.

BROWN: So talk to us about some of the actions that Greenpeace has surrounding the keep it in the ground movement.

COLEMAN: So, yea we’ve been supporting the keep it in the ground movement. It’s a coalition really of many, many different groups from many different spectrums of the sort of the political scene from Native activists who large green groups. The idea is that we can all rally behind this idea that we can’t continue to exploit these fossil fuels that way that we have been and the way that we’ve been continuing to do now. This is just something that scientist tell us. That we’re approaching these really critical markers for climate pollution and if we continue to drill and we continue to create these pipelines that allow for more drilling whether it’s natural gas or oil or coal, we’re going to pass markers that we can’t move back from. We’re going to cause crucial damage to our atmosphere and to our climate.

BROWN: So, the argument that comes from big business that also comes from some labor unions is that these pipelines create jobs and that people live pretty much in a petroleum based industry, petroleum based economy. People use gas to heat their homes. A lot of people still drive. So, what would be the best transition away from the fossil fuels to more renewables but perhaps something that would not so decimate the economy or send America’s current lifestyle and standard of living into complete disarray?

COLEMAN: I think the Dakota Access Pipeline is a great sort of example – and I’m really glad to see people bring up this discussion, especially through the lens of what’s happening in North Dakota. Because in North Dakota we have a group of major fossil fuel corporations. Some of which are from outside of the United States building a pipeline to ship fracked oil from North Dakota from the Gulf coast to export it. This isn’t like oil that we need to power our economy.

We actually have the technology right now to begin the necessary transition away from fossil fuels. What’s lacking is political will and the ability to stand up to these very powerful, very rich corporations which as I mentioned earlier have been giving many millions of dollars into the political system in order to continue their sort of death grip on our energy structure. We actually don’t need them. That’s kind of a falsehood that’s been perpetuated by these major fossil fuel corporations.

BROWN: And lastly Jesse, let’s talk about how the Paris Climate Agreements are scheduled to kick in relatively soon. And it’s really interesting how President Obama was very adamant about making sure that America signed onto these accords. At the same time, he is still backhandedly defending the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline not outwardly saying that it should not be built but trying to playcate the big oil company that is spending 3.8 billion dollars to construct this pipeline. So how can this president, this administration and democrats as a whole going forward, sort of justify talking out of both sides of their neck so to speak?

COLEMAN: Well I think that’s a really good question. I think that’s something that as people that are all going to be effected by the continued exploitation of fossil fuel resources, we’re all going to be affected by that and we need to ask our politicians these questions because you can’t save the climate and have a fossil fuel backed economy at the same time. We don’t need more pipelines. We need innovation and we need to start funding the renewable projects that we can already build right now. So I think that’s something that the next administration is definitely going to have to deal with and they’re going to have to decide who’s side they’re actually on.

Are they going to be one the fossil fuel corporation side or are they going to be on the side of the planet and the people that live here?

BROWN: That’s Jesse Coleman. He is a research with Greenpeace. He’s been speaking to us today from Boston. Jesse, we appreciate your time, thanks a lot.

COLEMAN: Thank you.

BROWN: And thank you for watching the Real News Network.


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