Saturday, December 10, 2016

A letter to a friend, that became a rant and a conversation with my better angels, that became outpaced by events.

Hey, readers. A while back, I got an inquiry about the Standing Rock protests. I was linked to a lengthy article that made an argument, and asked for feedback. This was before the news that the Army Corps of Engineers would refuse to grant the easement to the pipeline (YAY!). I suspect this friend was given the article by a conservative loved one whose opinion was swayed or reinforced by it and offered it to her during or after one of those civil political conversations I'm personally so fond of having with my own conservative loved ones. Could be she came across it on her own, just by having enough conservative loved ones on Facebook that it came up.

However she found it, she shared it with me, and it pissed me off.

I'm making a conscious choice, by the way, to NOT link to that piece of garbage in this post. It doesn't need any wider circulation than it got already.

My first response to my friend was a brief coupe paragraphs:

Wow, that's a lot to read. I'll have to check it out in more depth later. My immediate responses, though, are as follows: I don't care how long a protest goes or how poorly based in fact certain arguments of theirs might be, calling in riot cops from multiple states to protect a private company's ability to profit from a pipeline that is clearly not wanted there, by hosing people down in freezing temperatures and breaking bones, is not gonna win me over. Why the fuck should that behavior be allowed? Second, my interest in the issue is less about how few of the billions of barrels of oil it'll pump may be spilled and more about how the pipeline will enable billions of barrels of oil to be pumped and burned when we're already facing catastrophic climate change. I'm flat out against the pipeline just on those grounds. 

I have literally been site safety monitor on several emergency response actions to pipeline leaks and coordinated several elements of cleanup and restoration work after the fact as well during my work with a consulting firm in California. I worked in mountain passes, marshes, and ports. I know that new pipelines leak less than old ones like those I was called to respond on. But they can still leak, ANYWHERE they exist. And they still perpetuate climate change, and the inertia/momentum of that has already made the death and displacement of uncountable millions of people a certainty. It isn't immediate, but it is inescapable. We need to combat that, not enable it. These technical and legal arguments about EPA vs Army Corps jurisdiction, how close the pipeline isn't to a drinking water source, the unrelated strawman about the tribe owning casinos, all that comes waaay secondary for me to the climate change issue and the use of state and federal resources to violently secure profits for a private company.

He opens with

"I must state up front ... I am a strong proponent of Native American rights. Too often throughout history America’s early inhabitants have been treated grossly unfairly ... and worse.

My initial reaction to hearing about the Standing Rock/Dakota Access Pipeline protest was to support them."

But nobody who has a sympathetic bone in their body can start from that premise and argue this hard against people being treated SO poorly. This is the opener of someone who wants to get a formality out of the way. The whole rest of the very lengthy article is arguments against. He throws a mountain of charts about the safety of pipelines, but doesn't mention why building capacity for multinationals to export fossil fuels that often come from public land is in the public interest when we're facing global warming.

He's appealing to the brains of people who are inclined to listen to his arguments because they confirm previous biases, and counting on the exhaustion of those of us who don't have the time to check his sources and call him on his shit. I don't know whether or not this dude got paid to write that, but Donald Trump won an election, so fuck it. I'm calling him on his shit.

"So I began to research further, to try to learn more about the facts and claims ...."

My ass, you did. You dug for what you wanted.

Damn. I'm angry. That never helps.

He states

"People also need to understand that this is not a small, unsophisticated and beleaguered underdog group ... "

and a paragraph later goes on to talk about the money made by the owner of the nearest convenience store near the protest site, two fucking miles away, and how that owner is also the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's chairperson, as an "interesting sidenote." This is the definition of an ad hominem. He's not arguing about the about the pipeline, the petroleum, the protestor's treatment, or the treaty arguments, he's making them look shady.

Can I be angry now?

No, Pablo.

He throws around how big the reservation is, and how much they've gotta be making on their two casinos, but can you really run infrastructure for a sizeable population spread over that big an area on the income of a couple casinos? That can't run a small city, to say nothing of an area bigger than some of our states. Is that even how the income on those gets distributed? He talks about the water infrastructure they have as if they have no reason to care that the water on their land is at risk (or, hell, the land itself), but mostly he seems to be looking for an excuse to repeat again and again how many millions the US spent on grants for their water infrastructure, as if that should friggin' bother me. I know how many millions water infrastructure costs, I have an idea of the scale of this in comparison to what it costs just to upgrade existing infrastructure in a small-to-medium sized city. That $40-whatever million doesn't matter. They should've gotten more. They got a reservoir, some treatment capacity, and some pipes, which is pretty amazing for the amount of money they got. In my work, my agency charges a utility company easily 3 or 4 times that for an easement to lay a single line across the Willamette River in Portland (which all goes to the Common School Fund, and god bless the utility companies for supporting that).

This is for an easement, now, a right to cross property not owned by the utility company, and based on adjacent land values in a city, sure, but it's also completely aside from what they gotta pay to build and install it and for permitting under Federal rules. Depending on scale and complications, permitting alone can cost millions to consultants and lawyers to shepherd a project through all the Clean Water Act and other regulations, and permitting supports the whole industry of environmental and civil engineering consulting, where I used to work. That's good damn jobs, for geologists, ecologists, engineers, surveyors, asbestos cleanup workers and plumbers and a million other hands on trades for the related niches of the industry, all of whom pay their damn taxes to support the government that keeps them safe from fucking pipeline spills.

You're off topic, Pablo.


So the structure of the whole article and the pretty clear bias against the Tribes makes me suspect the first sentence of his second paragraph is a lie, even if the lines before that was something he's being honest about, and that's where I start digging for details and tidbits. For lies.

He asserts that no culturally significant sites have been impacted by the pipeline. The tribe disputes that vociferously. I'll take their word for that over his. Further (from that last link): 

“On Sept. 2, the Tribe provided vitally important documentation regarding a number of sacred sites, including stone features and burials, along a two mile stretch in the pipeline’s path. The following day, Dakota Access sent construction crews to that specific place, and bulldozed the entire area. This terrible and intentional action was taken without consulting with Tribal or State historic preservation officials. The Tribe has strongly objected to this desecration of our sacred sites. And we have called on the State Historical Society of North Dakota to take appropriate action to issue a stop work order to prevent additional harm to sites.”

The guys running this shitshow are assholes.

Ok, Pablo. You can be angry now.

"The Tribe also disputes DAPL’s claims regarding sacred sites. There are currently two different maps outlining the locations of historical artifacts: one produced by DAPL and one produced by the Tribe. At issue, says the Tribe, is that DAPL has provided no indication of where its data came from or identified the cultural experts who contributed to the map."

Nothing shady here, folks. I'm totally gonna trust and believe everything Shmarmy McWhitesplain says now.

You're too angry to go looking for anything else that may be wrong. Breathe, and address your friend.

So, my friend, to what you found most interesting: You said "The two points he was highlighting was that the tribe had been given opportunity to request changes and didn't, and that the water source that is at risk of being contaminated by the pipeline is due to be shut down sometime in the next few months (and another has already been built)." Fact is, most of the residents of the Reservation get their water from wells, which are still quite endangered by leaks from the pipeline, but everything downstream of where the pipeline crosses can be affected, too. Everything downhill from the pipeline to the sea is getting a certain level of risk, frankly. That's how watersheds work. Why is it ok for Dick Cheney to say even a 1% risk of terrorism resulting from our adventures overseas coming home to roost is too high a risk for us to not spend trillions more in more overseas adventures, but we can't set the same threshold for our health here at home, or even homegrown terrorism from white nationalists bombing abortion clinics?

Because profiteering Trumps governance. Man, this next four years'll be fun.

And as is pointed out in the comments below the article, the author,

"makes the claim that the tribe made no attempts through channels to have their concerns heard. And yet, he totally ignores the very specific allegation contained in their petition to the courts for an injuction to stop the construction. You can find that here: In it, the tribe maintains, in specific detail how their communications were routinely ignored. Perhaps their claim is false, but it is very suspect that no mention of that is made in Mr Gates lengthy screed. Mr Gates does find the time and space to repeatedly and in bold type, say the the key issue is a water intake. He completely ignores another issue, which the tribe claims is more key. The pipeline is being built on native lands granted them by the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie. That's quite an ommission on Mr. Gates part, since it would render the entire pipeline construction blatantly illegal. But, hey, there's the one water intake to concern ourselves with, isn't there? Finally there is the very lengthy dissertation on the odds of a damaging spill. Here Mr Gates forgets that odds are something that should only be a concern for people who willingly enter the casino. The Standing Rock tribe has expressed no desire to gamble at all, no matter the odds."

From what I can piece together about how this actually played out, it looks like they were objecting to the pipeline's very presence endangering their watershed before it started, and through the process, and then late in the process they were invited to provide suggestions on how it can be modified, and "don't build it or go around" wasn't an option on the table so they didn't play ball, and this author tries to suggest they were lazy and uncooperative and are now pitching a fit. It looks to me like they were railroaded, and I hope my readers consider the possibly historically relevant significance of that colloquialism.

Another points out an article noting that the tribes were refusing money (that they were owed by the federal government) for land the pipeline crosses back in 2011 (after a court found the government had illegally violated treaty to seize that land), because they didn't want the money. They wanted their land. And they want it without a pipeline on it.

That's all the argument I need.

I'll leave to my readers to decide whether this article from my friend falls better into the "Fake News" category we've been hearing so much about in the news since the election, or the "Propaganda" category. Either way, I'd say the Army Corps did the right thing, here.

So for now I raise a glass in celebration of their historic victory. However, while we gotta celebrate a solid win, the fight ain't over yet. Last I heard, the pipeline company's machinery was still there, and that's why the camp is staying put. Keep reading, people. Keep making phone calls to your representatives, and marching.

And don't always buy what they're trying to sell you. 

As always, readers, please let me know if you spot something that needs correcting or have info to add. Comments always welcome. For some amazing photojournalism on the latest, click here.

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