Last month, a federal judge ruled that Energy Transfer Partners must shut down its Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL). The judge sided with the Standing Rock Sioux Nation and its supporters who claimed the Army Corps of Engineers had failed to adequately prepare a required Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) when it issued its DAPL permit.
Two weeks later, a Washington, D.C. appeals court issued a temporary “stay” of that order. The stay’s purpose was to provide time for the court to consider arguments for and against the shutdown order. Whether that order is ultimately enforced, it is almost certain the courts will require the environmental impact study to be completed.
Initially such studies included potential impacts on water, soil, and air quality. Since the EIS bill’s initial signing by President Nixon in 1970, — yes, there once was a time when some Republicans in Washington took seriously our responsibility to protect our precious planet — several courts have ruled that climate change must be added to this list of concerns. Even so, impacts on climate are generally under-assessed, despite the fact that climate change represents the greatest threat faced by life on our planet since human civilization began.
I was an intervener in the Iowa Utility Board’s DAPL permit hearings and am familiar with this failure on a state level. In my testimony, I argued that the IUB must consider the impact of the DAPL project on climate change. I testified that the pipeline would result in increased oil production from the Dakotas, which in turn would result in more climate-disrupting CO2. (This is exactly what has happened, as evidenced by the Energy Transfer Partners’ recent application to double the pipeline’s capacity.)
I further testified that, contrary to the claims of Energy Transfer Partners, the pipeline did not offer a safe way to transport oil since, however it was transported, its eventual combustion would contribute to growing climate chaos. At a time when scientists were warning that we must quickly wean ourselves from fossil fuels, building new infrastructure to transport these fuels was the very last thing we ought to be doing. Of course, this is truer now than ever.
Unfortunately, the board brushed aside this threat and, in doing so, compromised the future well-being not just of Iowans, but of all life on our planet.
The Army Corps of Engineers must not perpetuate this neglect. While First Nation communities are entitled to have their water, air, and soil protected, so do they and all of us deserve to have our climate protected. You may ask, “Wouldn’t including a thorough assessment of climate impacts lead to the rejection of virtually every new fossil fuel infrastructure project?” The answer is “yes,” and rightly so. Quickly transitioning to sustainable energy sources like wind and solar is the only way to protect the world from increasingly severe storms, floods, droughts, fires, deadly heat waves, species extinction, and geopolitical unrest.
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What can readers do? Tell your representatives in Washington that you want to strengthen environmental regulations so that the climate emergency receives full consideration in every Environmental Impact Study. Your voice and your vote count.
Jonas Magram of Fairfield is the Climate Committee chair for the Sierra Club’s Iowa Chapter and a steering team member of the Bakken pipeline Resistance Coalition.