Fight Not Over: Dakota Access Protests Continue After Army Corps Announces Pipeline Project Review


The day after the Obama administration announced that the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) project would be required to undergo additional review, protests against the banks that funded the project continued, with organizers nationwide saying they planned to keep up their resistance.

“We are happy that the Army Corp of Engineers has listened to the voices and actions of millions who have taken a stand against this pipeline,” said Kristin Schwab, who helped organize a Philadelphia protest calling for banks to defund DAPL. “But a delay isn’t enough.”

In Philadelphia on Monday night, over 50 protesters opposed to the DAPL marched in the streets, calling for TD Bank which has invested $365 million in the $3.8 billion project to defund the pipeline. In New York City, organizers plan to protest outside a Wells Fargo pipeline symposium on Tuesday. And while a blizzard had the encampment at Standing Rock in white-out conditions, many protesters at the camps said that they planned to continue their presence this winter despite the elements.

“We are going to accept this victory, but this is just one battle in the broader war,” Tom Goldtooth, an indigenous environmentalist told the BBC. “We are going to stay put.”

On Sunday, the Army Corps of Engineers announced that it would not approve an easement allowing the pipeline to cross under Lake Oahe, which was widely touted as a victory for pipeline opponents, who call themselves water protectors and who say that DAPL would put drinking water supplies for 18 million Americans at risk.

Those at the encampments have faced extreme police brutality, with local law enforcement deploying water cannons in sub-zero temperatures in November and one 21-year old New York woman facing the possible loss of her arm after she purportedly was struck by a concussion grenade.

The pipeline company, Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), issued an aggressive response to Sunday’s announcement, saying that the company does not intend to change its plans as a result of the Army Corps of Engineers’ decision.

“The White House’s directive today to the Corps for further delay is just the latest in a series of overt and transparent political actions by an administration which has abandoned the rule of law in favor of currying favor with a narrow and extreme political constituency,” the company said in a statement.

“As stated all along, ETP and SXL are fully committed to ensuring that this vital project is brought to completion and fully expect to complete construction of the pipeline without any additional rerouting in and around Lake Oahe,” the company said in a statement. “Nothing this Administration has done today changes that in any way.”

“Obviously the project’s not dead, and it’s being financed by several banks,” Jed Laucharoen, a Philadelphia resident, told DeSmog as Monday’s protest arrived at the doors of a TD Bank branch.

Protesters in Philadelphia Monday night said they planned to continue keeping pressure on banks that backed DAPL. Credit: © Laura Evangelisto, 2016.

Organizers circulated fliers with instruction on how to close bank accounts and open credit union accounts. “Today I am cancelling my account at TD Bank because I do not want to be part of an institution that profits from human misery and environmental devastation,” rabbinical student Jessica Rosenberg said.

While the Army Corps delay was widely framed as a victory for water protectors, grassroots activists and organizers in Philadelphia seemed to be keeping their focus on bigger — and less temporary — goals.

“We all know that the easement was denied and we’re very grateful, but we all know there is work to do,” Trine Smith, an organizer with Philly Stands with Standing Rock No DAPL, told a crowd rallied across from Philadelphia’s City Hall Monday night.

And that work involves building infrastructure, she said — but not fossil fuel infrastructure, the kind of infrastructure that would provide renewable energy and help to meet people’s fundamental needs.

“We know that solar and wind energy are available,” Smith said.  “Our struggles are connected to Flint, Michigan — they want to invest in pipelines, but they won’t even fix the pipes.”

The marchers also rallied outside the Philadelphia offices of the Army Corps of Engineers. “We’re not going to thank them for something they should have done years ago,” Jenna Peters-Golden, an organizer with AORTA, told the crowd. “We’re going to tell them we’re watching them.”

Asked about the protests and the Army Corps decision, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney lauded the Obama administration’s move, but sounded a cautionary note. “My hope is that the next administration doesn’t reverse it,” he told DeSmog.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney expressed concern that the Trump administration could undo the decision by the Corps outside City Hall Monday night. Credit: © Laura Evangelisto, 2016.

Of course, that is exactly what many closely watching the issue expect to happen.

“We never thought there was any chance that Obama would approve DAPL on his watch, so this announcement is unsurprising,” Baird analyst Ethan Bellamy told Benzinga as he predicted that the DAPL pipeline would be in service by the second quarter of next year. “We expect Trump to reverse this decision in his first week in office.”

A 17-page Trump administration memo obtained last week by the Associated Press made it clear that the incoming administration supported the construction of the DAPL project. Although Trump’s campaign has said he sold off his personal holdings in Energy Transfer Partners, the company’s chairman personally donated over $100,000 to Trump’s campaign since June, a Reuters investigation found.

Nonetheless, the memo said, Trump’s support for ETP‘s project “has nothing to do with his personal investments and everything to do with promoting policies that benefit all Americans.”

Until the Army Corps’ move, a confrontation in North Dakota had seemed to be growing increasingly imminent, with over 2,000 military veterans arriving with the intention to peacefully protect the water protectors amid dire warnings about a possible eviction of the encampment from North Dakota’s governor and local law enforcement.

On Sunday, the Morton County Sherriff’s Department announced that it was conditionally lifting a blockade of the encampment after the Army Corps decision was made public.

Philadelphia police lined up as protesters briefly shut down streets in Center City on Monday. Credit: © Laura Evangelisto, 2016.

“I think the Army Corps decision may have prevented a lot of lives being lost,” filmmaker Josh Fox told DeSmog.

It was not yet clear how North Dakota officials and the Morton County Sheriff’s Department planned to respond to the federal government’s decision over the longer term.

According to the Associated Press, “North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple called the Corps’ decision ‘a serious mistake’ in a statement, saying it ‘prolongs the serious problems’ that law enforcement faces and ‘prolongs the dangerous situation’ of people camping in cold, snowy conditions.”

And on its Facebook page, the Morton County Sheriff’s Department still lists several conditions for ending its blockade, writing “[v]iolation of these requests will show that protestors have chosen to be aggressors by violating the law, and it will result in their arrest.”

Meanwhile, environmental activists called attention to a different kind of risk, focusing on the longer-term hazards posed not only by climate change, but also the hazards posed by fossil fuel infrastructure in people’s day-to-day lives.

“Since 2010, 474 people have been injured, 100 people have been killed, and $3.5 billion of damage has occurred as a result of pipeline accidents, leaks and spills,” Inside Energy reported in November. In October, a pipeline rupture in Pennsylvania spilled roughly 55,000 gallons of raw gasoline into a branch of the Susquehanna River. That same month, a pipeline explosion in Alabama left a fire that burned for at least 3 days and resulted in the death of a 48-year-old worker.

“This pipeline and many other proposals like it would serve only to deepen our country’s dependence on polluting fossil fuels,” said Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director, Food & Water Watch, in a statement reacting to the Army Corps’ decision, “and place in peril the front-line communities that must face the constant threat of leaks, spills, explosions, and water contamination from oil and gas infrastructure every day.”

Credit: © Laura Evangelisto, 2016.

Main image credit: © Laura Evangelisto, 2016.

Sharon Kelly is an attorney and freelance writer based in Philadelphia. She has reported for The New York Times, The Guardian, The Nation, National Wildlife, Earth Island Journal, and a variety of other publications. Prior to beginning freelance writing, she worked as a law clerk for the ACLU of Delaware.

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