Last month, the U.S Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) delivered a devastating blow to the lives of Anishinaabe people and our surrounding tribal nations with their decision to stand by Trump-era water permits for the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota. Further, earlier this year the USACE made the disappointing decision to not take action to stop the illegal Dakota Access Pipeline.
Despite the fact that these permits were granted under an administration that believed climate change was a hoax, and without a proper Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that considered tribal consultation and the potential climate and environmental impacts of a new Line 3 pipeline, President Trump’s Army Corps of Engineers chose to barrel ahead with these toxic permits.
What’s worse, is that this is not the only Trump-approved pipeline the Army Corps of Engineers has approved, to the detriment of our climate, clean water and Indigenous rights. There are numerous pipelines across the country, including the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), that have been approved without proper environmental consideration or tribal and community consultation.
As our communities experience one of the worst droughts in history, as we face historic wildfires and as our entire world braces for the impact of climate chaos due to fossil fuels emissions, we ask the Army Corps: Why rush? Why not take the time to comprehensively review these projects, and carefully consider the permanent and potentially devastating impacts of even more fossil fuel pipelines? Why continue the path of ignoring the demands of Indigenous peoples and tribal nations?
President Biden took decisive action on day one in office to cancel the Keystone XL Pipeline protecting cultural resources, land and water of tribal nations along the route. Now, President Biden, Jaime Pinkham and the USACE have the full authority to hit pause on these pipelines until a proper assessment of the dangers they pose is completed. For example, in Michigan, with guidance from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the Army Corps of Engineers ordered an environmental review of the proposed Line 5 pipeline project. In this decision, the USACE clearly understood the need for an “open, transparent and public process,” that ensures “meaningful and robust consultation with tribal nations occurs.” This significant action, supported by our sister tribal nations of that region, is an advancement toward climate action and environmental justice, but it only heightens the inconsistencies within the Corps of Engineers’ decision making. The standard that was used to order an environmental review of Line 5 must be consistently applied to all pipelines, including pipelines like Line 3 and DAPL, where Indigenous communities have put continued pressure on the Biden administration to revoke permits issued by the Trump administration.
You do not have to be an expert to know that the consequences of these pipelines are obvious and severe. Tar sands are one of the dirtiest fossil fuels on the planet, and the proposed Line 3 pipeline would carry more than 760,000 barrels a day through the untouched wetlands and the treaty-protected tribal territory of northern Minnesota. The pipeline will cross hundreds of culturally significant areas and will terminate on the banks of a river less than three miles from Lake Superior, which our people hold sacred, and yet, still, no federal or state agency has analyzed its threat to the lake.
In North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa, construction for increased capacity for Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is underway, despite the fact that a court-ordered environmental impact is still ongoing. This pipeline would transport half-a million barrels of crude oil a day underneath one of the primary water sources for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, putting not only the environment, but the health of our tribes at risk. This pipeline should have never been built in the first place, and its continued operation is an affront to tribal sovereignty. The Trump administration ignored the law and ignored the demands of our nations. We have never given free, prior, informed consent on this pipeline. The Army Corps of Engineers has an opportunity — and an obligation — to pause construction of this capacity upgrade of DAPL until a full environmental impact statement is conducted.
We have held our ground for years, making it clear that the Trump-approved pipelines cannot continue. There is no doubt that Line 3, DAPL and others will open regions of lakes, rivers and wild rice beds to degradation from oil spills, exacerbate climate change and forever harm the sacred land of Native peoples.
If the Army Corps of Engineers are serious about “conserving cultural and natural resources” and “reducing risk and protecting human health and the environment” then they must reexamine the permits for pipelines granted under the Trump administration. It’s time for the Biden administration to follow through on commitments to respect science, Indigenous communities, property rights and the climate crisis, and follow standards to make sure that new fossil fuel infrastructure has to pass a climate test. The time to act is now, and Indigenous communities, our nations, are paying for the Biden administration’s inaction every day. And that inaction is threatening the future for all of us.
Samuel Strong is a tribal councilman for the Red Lake Nation. Whitney Gravelle is tribal chairwoman of the Bay Mills Indian Community. Kevin Killer is president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. Robert Larsen is president of the Lower Sioux Indian Community.
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