Anti-Keystone XL activists “have come to call this project the ‘Zombie Pipeline’; it just keeps coming back from the dead,” says Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network. But pipeline opponents still have reason for cautious optimism
DIMITRI LASCARIS: This is Dimitri Lascaris for The Real News Network. The controversial Keystone XL Pipeline was approved by Nebraska regulators on Monday, November 20th. In a narrow 3-2 decision, the Nebraska Public Service Commission approved a more costly alternate route for Keystone XL over the owner TransCanada’s preferred route through the state. Lifting the last big regulatory obstacle for the long-delayed project that US President Donald Trump once built. The project stirred controversy from the moment it was proposed and advocated nearly a decade ago. Former U.S. President Barrack Obama considered it for years before rejecting it in 2015 on environmental grounds. Current President Donald Trump reversed that decision promptly upon taking office saying Keystone XL will lower fuel prices, boost national security and bring jobs. But is all of that truly the case? With us to discuss this, I’m pleased to have back on The Real News Network Dallas Goldtooth. Dallas is an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, and he joins us today from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Thanks very much for coming back on The Real News. DALLAS GOLDTOOTH: I’m so happy to be here. Thank you for having me on. DIMITRI LASCARIS: Dallas, what’s your reaction to the decision to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline. I’m talking here about the Nebraska decision, obviously, in particular. Do you accept that Keystone XL is now a done deal? DALLAS GOLDTOOTH: The Indigenous Environmental Network is disappointed and yet remains cautiously optimistic in the outcomes moving ahead with the Keystone XL Pipeline. TransCanada, the parent company of the Keystone, has some immense hurdles to get through before they can even begin construction, because the route that was approved by the PUC, the Public Utilities Commission for Nebraska was not their preferred route. It was actually an alternative route. And on that alternative route, there’s landowners who don’t even know that they are now in the cross hairs for this pipeline. What this means that the company now has to go and negotiate easements with a whole new set of landowners, and if those landowners resist, they’re going to have enter into eminent domain procedures on that property. They’re also going to have cite new transmission lines for pumping stations. The list goes on and on. And you know, that’s the optimistic part of this that we’re feeling right now. But all in all, we’re still disappointed that we even got to this point. I mean, those of us that have been engaged in this fight against Keystone XL have come to call this project the ‘Zombie Pipeline.’ It just keeps coming back from the dead. And so we’re just frustrated to a high degree that state officials are still considering fossil fuel projects to put our water, our communities, our land, and this planet at greater risk when the science proves that we need to go in the other direction and keep fossil fuels in the ground. DIMITRI LASCARIS: And perhaps what makes the frustration particularly intense in this case is the decision came hot in the heels of the spill of hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil near Amherst, South Dakota from a portion of Keystone XL that’s already built. How, if it all, did that spill affect the reasoning and conclusions of the Nebraska Public Service Commission? DALLAS GOLDTOOTH: Look, the PUC, the commissioners themselves had stated the other day when the spill happened that they are not allowed to consider that oil spill in their decision on the Keystone XL. But we’re human being. We’re all human beings. We all have a heart. We all have emotions. We sincerely hope that they’ve taken to account what we’re seeing in South Dakota at this very moment with the spill of what is first reported as 210,000 gallons. But we all know when these spills happen the estimates are always extremely low to what actually is the determined amount later on. If you add that amount to all the, I believe is 17 spills that TransCanada has had on the Keystone I pipeline, there are over a quarter of a million gallons has spilled so far from that pipeline since it was first made. I really, really hope that state officials, national officials and just common human beings who we all understand that when it comes to pipelines, it’s not a matter if it will spill, it’s a matter of when. We really need to take some serious discussion about stopping these fossil fuel projects from even getting to a place where they get the green light. DIMITRI LASCARIS: As a mentioned on the onset, Donald Trump, the president, reversed Obama’s decision, citing lower fuel prices, national security and the creation of jobs. What is your reaction to those rationales for this pipeline? In particular, do you accept the Keystone XL serves the interest of workers? DALLAS GOLDTOOTH: I believe that TransCanada and Keystone XL serves the interest of corporate executives in a slim minority of those that will actually make profits off of this. I think that we have to take into account, if you want to talk about economics, we have to take into account the price that communities along the route will have to face should an oil spill happen on their farmland, or in their drinking water, or within the reach of their homes and communities. We have to talk about the increased risk in the price of climate disaster and climate chaos that’s happening all across this planet. And we have to speak to those of us in the United States, we have relatives down in the Gulf Coast who are dealing with the real effects of climate change, and this pipeline, if it gets built, locks us into more fossil fuel, oil and gas development when we need to go on the other direction. I think that this character that we have in the White House is making bad decisions left and right, all across the board, and it’s no different when it comes to environmental issues. I think that the administration in the White House has proven that they’re more willing to pander to the interest of oil and gas, which are their friends and buddies, than it is the interest of American people and to indigenous peoples. DIMITRI LASCARIS: With the Dakota access in the Keystone XL Pipeline, there seems to have been quite a bit of solidarity between Native Americans, First Nations in Canada and environmentalist groups, non-indigenous environmentalist groups. Do you feel that cooperation between these groups in the fight against climate change is growing? If so, what are the more important concrete signs of that growing cooperation? DALLAS GOLDTOOTH: Well, let’s talk about Keystone XL in this fight, in the history of this fight. In the very beginning, there was a lot of landowners in Nebraska and South Dakota who started speaking up against this project because they were interested in a very valid way about the impacts on their individual properties. There was an intel, the Indigenous Environmental Network brought down citizens and people from the tar sands region in Northern Alberta to really talk about the impacts of tar sands development on their homelands, their health and their way of life that people started seeing like, “Look, we shouldn’t just be talking about this project from being not going to our backyards. We should really talk about this project not being started whatsoever.” And so this movement of connecting the dots and building a greater narrative for the better of us all has been going for a number of years now, and it’s only getting bigger and bigger and bigger. I think the real reason for that is because the danger is getting more immense and the instances of climate chaos affecting the very lives of human beings whether you’re on the coast of some ocean, or you’re in the deep in the forest, or you’re in the arctic region are becoming more and more prevalent. We really, really need to take action together and not get stuck in this whole “NIMBY” approach, which stands for ‘Not in My Backyard.’ DIMITRI LASCARIS: In these groups, and this growing level of cooperation among these groups is confronted by what appears to be an intensifying use of fairly militaristic tactics. We, The Real News, previously spoke to you about how Energy Transfer Partners, owner of the Dakota Access Pipeline, hired a private security firm called TigerSwan to target the water protectors who are protesting that pipeline, and that they used military-style of counter-terrorism measures. Is this kind of militaristic approach that’s suppressing environmental activism, has it worsened, as far as you can tell, under the Trump administration? Or is it pretty much business as usual compared to the Obama administration? DALLAS GOLDTOOTH: I like to say that the suppression of indigenous rights and indigenous movements has been a norm, so far over 500 years. I think that for us native people, we were not surprised by the presence of military-style police enforcement up in Standing Rock in the fight against Dakota Access Pipeline. What I think is unique is the level of escalation that we’re seeing law enforcement are using to suppress peaceful action, peaceful direct action. I think that a lot of our allies, non-native allies, were really taken aback to the degree in which the oil and gas regime and a law enforcement that support it are going to the lengths of which they are willing to go to protect these projects. We only hope that our movements … it’s not even a hope. I believe in peaceful direct action. I believe in non-violent direct action. And I believe that the real solid outcomes that can be a result of peaceful direct action. Law enforcement can continue to escalate their tactics. They can continue to use PSYOPs, psychological operations, to break apart our movement. They can continue to use surveillance as a way to dissuade from people to join the ranks of basically making the world better and a healthier place. But I believe that we will overcome with our taking to the streets and making sure our voices are heard. DIMITRI LASCARIS: Lastly, you talk about law enforcement techniques to suppress peaceful resistance. The civil justice system has also been called into action by the fossil fuel industry. Last August, Energy Transfer Partners employed a law firm headed by Donald Trump’s personal attorney to file a lawsuit alleging “eco-terrorism” against various environmental groups. How do you respond to the use of that rather frightening and provocative label to describe resistors to new fossil fuel’s infrastructure? DALLAS GOLDTOOTH: I think that the process, which Energy Transfer Partners is using to challenge or to attack environmental organizations, is an affront to the legal system that we have built. I think that it’s a complete disregard for the freedom of speech that this country has been founded upon. I think that the other part of it that’s really interesting with the Energy Transfer Partners’ lawsuit is that the entire lawsuit itself is completely full of racial undertones in how they described indigenous movement building in a way that indigenous peoples led, led by against Dakota Access Pipeline. I think it’s also really poignant to point out that there’s no recognition or very little recognition at the power of an indigenous rights framework, and the necessity for indigenous peoples to really make sure that their voices are heard when it comes to free prior and informed consent on projects that impact their water, land and communities. That’s no different whether you’re right in the heart of the tar sands and those communities standing up against expansion of fossil fuel projects there, or you’re along the infrastructure routes, or whether you’re at the point of refinement. We’re all standing up and this movement that we’re seeing is being led by indigenous peoples, first and foremost, and it’s amazing thing to see. DIMITRI LASCARIS: We thank you so much for joining us, Dallas. This has been Dimitri Lascaris speaking to Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network about a new decision coming out of Nebraska approving an alternate route for the Keystone XL Pipeline. Thank you for coming back on The Real News, Dallas. DALLAS GOLDTOOTH: I appreciate the opportunity. Thank you very much. DIMITRI LASCARIS: And this has been Dimitri Lascaris for The Real News Network.