Army Approves Final Permit for Dakota Access Pipeline Without Assessing Environmental Impact

Nick Tilsen, Executive Director of Thunder Valley Community Development Corp, says the decision reflects the long history of the U.S. government ignoring treaties and environmental protections

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Story Transcript

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

On Tuesday afternoon, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that they have approved the final permit needed to complete the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, in North Dakota. The company building the pipeline, Dakota Transfer Partners, could resume construction in as little as 24 hours. And President Donald Trump put the pipeline back on the table with an Executive Order that he signed at the end of January.

The construction of the pipeline was delayed through legal disputes, and months of sustained protest. By Indigenous people and environmental activists. And to get more reaction from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ announcement today, we’re joined by Nick Tilson, Nick is the Executive Director for Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation. He’s speaking to us from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, in South Dakota. Nick, we appreciate you being here, thank you.

NICK TILSON: Thank you for having me on.

KIM BROWN: So, Nick, first and foremost, what is your response to what the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced today, in a letter to Congress, saying that they will grant the final easement needed to build the portion of the Dakota Access Pipeline that will run underneath Lake Oahe? What is your response to this?

NICK TILSON: I mean, my response is that this is total injustice. This is them… this is the federal government and the Army going around its own processes, that they have created. They’re literally abandoning their own processes that they’ve created, by terminating the Environmental Impact Study that they’re supposed to have done. That Environmental Impact Study was designed to actually give all of the parties, including the tribe, and including all the indigenous people, and including the Army Corps, the proper information to see what the true impact of this pipeline was going to be. And they’ve abandoned that process. So, they’ve abandoned the whole process.

So, it’s a total violation of the rights of indigenous people, the rights of the environment. It’s a form of deregulating the permitting process, by basically cancelling the Environmental Impact Study process. We won’t be able to prove the true impacts of the pipeline on the people.

Furthermore, it’s history repeating itself. I mean, as indigenous peoples we have seen this type of aggression, and we’ve seen that no matter how hard that we fight. No matter how much that we sacrificed, no matter how much we participate in the process, that we end up with a system in this country that ends up creating injustice, and creating inequity for our people.

KIM BROWN: Expand on that a little bit further if you could, Nick, and talk about the issue of honoring treaties made with Native American nations and respecting the traditional tribal lands. Explain to us why this is important.

NICK TILSON: So, you know, Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution states that treaties are the supreme law of the land. And so when the U.S. government entered into treaties with the Lakota and Dakota, Nakota Territories, they basically abrogated those treaties and violated every treaty that they have ever signed with our people. And in the process of doing that, they actually violated the U.S. Constitution, and this is something that we’ve seen over and over.

And the reason why the violation of these treaties is so important is, these are peace agreements that were made at a time of war. And these peace agreements structured what the relationship was going to be. Whose land was what? What was the responsibility to education? What was the responsibility to housing? All of these different things that were in the treaties and much of Federal Indian Law is based on the rights that were given in these treaties.

And so, this is history. This is a continued history of America, making and breaking promises with indigenous people, and willing to violate the very laws that were intended to protect people, and protect the environment.

KIM BROWN: Let’s talk about exactly, what’s going on at the Standing Rock encampment site. Where we saw so much activity over the past several months with protestors, not just indigenous people, but people really coming from, literally around the world, to stand with the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Tribe to protest the continued construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. And I think at one point, the encampment had swelled to as many as 10,000 people. So, what is the status of the encampment site now?

NICK TILSON: There are still people there in the camp. Obviously, the movement and the fight to fight the Dakota Access Pipeline, has moved way beyond the camp. In fact, it has moved to the streets of Washington. It’s moved into several cities across America and the Divestment Movement is moving into financial institutions. And so, yes, as important as Oceti Sakowin camp has been, the relevancy of fighting this fight has moved to multiple different locations.

And a lot of what’s taking place at the camp right now, is people are cleaning up. People are worried about the flood that’s coming. That actual area that the camp is at is a flood plain, so come springtime that area is going to be under water. And so people are moving from there, because it’s important that people not be there when the flood happens because that’s a flood plain.

But I would like to reiterate, like, the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline has spread throughout the country into many different places, and many different pressure points.

KIM BROWN: Talk to us about the actual construction of the pipeline, because at the end of 2016, the Obama Administration had allowed construction to at least, on the surface, come to a halt. But through many reports from people on the ground, who were there during that time, they stressed to us that construction on the pipeline never ceased whatsoever.

So, what has actually been going on with the actual construction, the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline?

NICK TILSON: Well, the Obama Administration stopped construction underneath the Missouri River. So, there hasn’t been construction happening underneath the Missouri River. Construction was happening right up the both sides of the Missouri River, in preparation that they would eventually get the easement to go underneath. And so, that was the construction that was taking place. They are also allowed to dig up to their property line, until it gets to the Federal Army Corps of Engineers’ boundary. So, that’s the construction that was taking place during that time.

Now, with this, you know, and I want to make it clear that what happened today was, the Army gave Congress their “intent to grant the easement”, the easement actually hasn’t been granted yet. But we’re expecting that that easement is going to be granted as soon as within the next 24 hours. And that would give the company the ability to go and begin drilling underneath the Missouri River, the very water that we’ve been trying to… and fighting to protect.

KIM BROWN: President Trump, and many other Republicans in Congress, say that building more pipelines creates more jobs and makes the U.S. “energy independent”. So, what would you say to that, have jobs come to the areas where these pipelines are being built? And are native people able to capitalize on those jobs in any way?

NICK TILSON: I think it’s an irrelevant argument. The reason why, is because these pipelines and the industry that they represent, these are pipelines to the past. I mean, we believe as indigenous people, we believe that America should be rebuilding its infrastructure, but it should be doing it sustainably. We should be rebuilding America’s regenerative infrastructure.

And so, if we put the same amount of effort into renewable transmission lines, and into renewable energy projects, you would have less of an impact on the environment. You could create a process that would be more respectful to indigenous people and to indigenous people’s rights. Instead of having projects like these pipelines that are clearly a pipeline to the past, and an old energy model that has proven that it doesn’t work for people. And it continues to create a separation between the rich and the poor.

So, the fact that, in the name of jobs, pipelines like this are being approved, is ridiculous. We should be completely dedicated to creating jobs, but we should be focused on jobs that are beneficial for the people and the planet, and create prosperity for all people.

KIM BROWN: So, Nick, what are the next steps for your organization, the Thunder Valley Community Development Group, along with the Standing Rock Sioux and the other environmental groups that have rallied around stopping the Dakota Access Pipeline construction? What’s going to happen next, as far as you guys are concerned?

NICK TILSON: So, for us, we’re a sustainable community development corporation, dedicated to building sustainable development here in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. And so, our work continues to do that, as we will continue to resist the Dakota Access Pipeline and pipelines like it. I think for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, they’re going to be filing for a temporary restraining order, or also known as TRO, and are going to try and strive for a summary judgment, that basically the Army Corps doesn’t have the premise, or the right, to approve this easement.

For us, I believe that we have to continue resisting the Dakota Access Pipeline, but we also have to take what we learned there, and the lessons that we’ve learned in this fight, because this is not the only pipeline that we’re going to be fighting. Clearly this administration has decided to deregulate the EPA, has put pressure on to expedite permitting processes for American-based pipelines.

The climate that we are in, shows that we are going to have to keep fighting these destructive pipelines moving forward. I think the difference now, is there is clearly an indigenous rights movement that exists in this country now, with millions of allies in this country and around the world. And I think that the flame that was started at Standing Rock will continue to go into other movements, and continue to fuel the fights that we’re going to have, moving forward.

KIM BROWN: Indeed. We’ve been speaking with Nick Tilson. He is the Executive Director for the Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation, in South Dakota. We’ve been talking about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sending a letter to Congress on Tuesday, informing Congress of their intent to grant an easement, to allow the final portion of construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline to move forward.

This will be the portion that will go under Lake Oahe, and obviously, it’s not being received very well at this time. Because as Nick pointed out earlier in the interview, the Environmental Impact Study had not been completed, and yet the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has allowed, or intends to allow, this easement to go forward. So, Nick, we appreciate you making some time to speak with us. Thank you.

NICK TILSON: Absolutely, thank you very much.

KIM BROWN: And thanks for watching The Real News Network.

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