After months of delays, protests and push-back from local and national groups concerning the Dakota Access pipeline, Trump has signed a pair of executive orders directing the pipeline construction to move ahead. In December, The Army Corps of Engineers refused to allow an easement to be built which would tunnel under the Missouri River and since then construction has been put on hold. The Corps. Also said it would conduct further analysis of the safety of the pipeline, which would run from the western edge of North Dakota to southern Illinois.
The company building the pipeline is Energy Transfer Partners. Since 2005, ETP has lost almost 19,000 barrels of crude oil through pipeline spills in the U.S. The operation of the pipeline would be conducted by ETP’s subsidiary Sunoco Logistics. According to federal records, Sunoco has had the most leaks of any pipeline operator in the U.S – 274 in the last decade. The most recent oil spill in a pipeline operated by Sunoco occurred in October 21st of 2016 where 55,000 gallons seeped into the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. By comparison, the company with the second most incidents had 18 fewer than Sunoco and operated more than four times the mileage of pipeline.
Despite the rather definitive evidence that each company involved with the pipeline appears incompetent at performing their business, Trump has made a unilateral decision to allow the construction to move forward. I think this is a great example and microcosm of what the Trump administration will look like and how cognitive dissonance pervades his political party.
For years, the Republican Party has championed itself as the party of small government, free market, and minimal governmental intervention. However, as history has arrived to show us, the Republican Party is in fact the party of big government in some areas, and smaller government in others; the proportions of which are discretionary and are themed around protecting capitalist interest but not necessarily free market interests. Clearly, many people of North Dakota do not want the pipeline – nor do the people potentially affected in the surrounding tributary areas. Their concern seems legitimate given what we know about Sunoco and ETF. Something has evolved in the ideology of free market fundamentalism however. It is not simply that the government is intervening in the private rights of citizens, which is in many cases something the Republican Party has fought against, it’s that the government is interfering to put an inferior product on the market- in this case the product being oil transportation.
This is not a boon to job creation. There will be little benefit to those who live near the pipeline or even those who work it. Wages will not increase due to the improved efficiency of oil transportation. No, this construction benefits a very few investors who will look to increase margins with increased transportation efficiency. What the Trump administration has tacitly endorsed is that investors will be rewarded through government intervention despite abuse to local communities, despite democratically produced opposition, and despite legitimate operational concerns.
An additional dimension to the protests are the concerns for building near land belonging to the Standing Rock Sioux. While protests may have started to defend Native American rights, the lengthy protests have proved frustrating and the majority of The Standing Rock Sioux voted against building a winter camp for the protesters. The protests seem to have evolved from a defense of Native American land to a defense of citizens’ public health and safety. This protest channels a lot of frustration many protesters feel about the inequitable distribution of wealth and the political forces that maintain that distribution.
We should be mindful as citizens as to the reach and purpose of Federal government intervention and the results it produces. Are we okay with our government imperiling local water supplies of thousands of Americans to provide increased margins for a few investors? I do not feel cavalier when I say, “imperiling” because there is so much evidence to draw upon that an accident or spill is likely to occur.There have been, and will continue to be, cases were a local citizenry does not have all the evidence to make an informed judgement. A local group may protest over erroneous facts. To remedy this incongruency of information, a public forum and information campaign would prove a welcome change.
This does not appear to be a case of an overzealous group of Greenpeace activists. This pipeline will attract thousands more to the area with a new goal: stop the imposition of Federal mandate on citizen’s rights. We will likely hear that the protesters are a bunch of “whiners” who need to “get a job”. These are blunt instruments to detract from a basic truth – legitimate concerns of numerous United States Citizens are being discarded in favor of the financial interests of a very few. If wealth inequality has been a concern of yours, then this should concern you as well. If you are not concerned with this type of scenario, then you must believe that the financial interests of the very few supersede the basic living standards of thousands. In his inauguration speech, Trump claimed he will, “give America back to its people”. I cannot imagine how these executive actions accomplish that.
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