The Native Peoples of Standing Rock Haven’t Given Up, Nor Should We

January 26, 2017
Pax Ahimsa Gethen/CC-BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia
Andrew Rosenberg
Director, Center for Science and Democracy

Last September, I wrote about the important role that science and scientists could play in supporting the battle of the Lakota Nations in North Dakota to protect their sacred land and water rights. The Dakota Access Pipeline project at that time appeared to be moving forward without a full analysis of the impacts on Native people, their cultural heritage, and the environment. I believed, then and now, that scientists should support the call for that full analysis because decisions on a matter that is so important should be made in light of the science, along with many other factors. The Obama Administration, in response to the coming together of tribes from all across the country, decided that indeed a deeper analysis of options was needed.

On January 18, the Army Corps of Engineers announced their intent to prepare a full Environmental Impact Statement. That is the deeper analysis including consideration of alternatives as I discussed at length in my September blog. And right now, until February 20, the Corps are asking for comments on that notice of intent.  In other words, they are asking for input from the public in scoping out the environmental impact statement. To quote from the Corps:

“The proposed crossing of Corps property requires the granting of a right-of-way (easement) under the Mineral Leasing Act (MLA), 30 U.S.C. 185. To date, the Army has not made a final decision on whether to grant the easement pursuant to the MLA. The Army intends to prepare an EIS to consider any potential impacts to the human environment that the grant of an easement may cause.”

“Specifically, input is desired on the following three scoping concerns:

(1) Alternative locations for the pipeline crossing the Missouri River;

(2) Potential risks and impacts of an oil spill, and potential impacts to Lake Oahe, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s water intakes, and the Tribe’s water, treaty fishing, and hunting rights; and

(3) Information on the extent and location of the Tribe’s treaty rights in Lake Oahe.”

There are important science questions in at least the first two of these topics. So scientists with specific expertise might want to comment. And those scientists who are not necessarily specialists in this area or these topics still might want to comment on the importance of preparing a full analysis of the impacts of the proposed pipeline. Comments in response to the notice are in no way restricted to only these three concerns.

Underscoring all of this is the fact that the tribes who have been fighting long and hard to protect their lands and water are also asking for our support.

This call for support is all the more urgent given the Presidential Action this week by President Trump to expedite permitting for the pipeline. That doesn’t mean that an analysis of environmental impacts is off the table. And it is unclear in fact what will happen under the new order. At the least there is likely to be a court battle.

So it is more important than ever for scientists to speak up. I know, there are many, many issues that are confronting us all every day in this new political reality.  But now is not the time to be overwhelmed. Now is the time to be re-energized. Our democracy—and at Standing Rock the health and safety of native people—depend upon it.

Click here to email your comments to the Corps of Engineers before February 20, 2017.

Or go directly to the request for comments page on the Federal Register.