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Judge Denies Tribes’ Request To Block Final Link In Dakota Pipeline

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. federal judge on Monday denied a request by Native American tribes seeking to halt construction of the final link in the Dakota Access Pipeline, the controversial project that has sparked months of protests by activists aimed at stopping the 1,170-mile line.

At a hearing, Judge James Boasberg of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., rejected the request from the Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes, who argued that the project would prevent them from practicing religious ceremonies at a lake they contend is surrounded by sacred ground.

With this decision, legal options for the tribes continue to narrow, as construction on the final uncompleted stretch is currently proceeding.

Last week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted a final easement to Energy Transfer Partners LP, which is building the $3.8 billion pipeline (DAPL), after President Donald Trump issued an order to advance the project days after he took office in January.

Another hearing is scheduled for Feb. 27, as the tribes seek an injunction ordering the Army Corps to withdraw the easement.

Lawyers for the Cheyenne River Sioux and the Standing Rock Sioux wanted Judge Boasberg to block construction with a temporary restraining order on the grounds that the pipeline would obstruct the free exercise of their religious practices.

“We’re disappointed with today’s ruling denying a temporary restraining order against the Dakota Access Pipeline, but we are not surprised,” Chase Iron Eyes, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, said in a statement.

The company needs to build a 1,100-foot (335 meter) connection in North Dakota under Lake Oahe, part of the Missouri River system, to complete the pipeline.

The line would run from oilfields in the Northern Plains of North Dakota to the Midwest, and then to refineries along the Gulf of Mexico, and could be operating by early May.

Judge Boasberg ordered Energy Transfer Partners to update the court on Monday and every week thereafter on when oil is expected to flow beneath Lake Oahe.

The company did not respond to requests for comment.

Iron Eyes said during an earlier conference call that the pipeline would also cause economic harm to Native Americans.

In his statement, he said the tribe was still seeking an injunction against the pipeline, which would also be heard in Boasberg’s court. They also are continuing to push for a full environmental impact statement that was ordered in the last days of the Obama Administration.

“We continue to believe that both the tribes and the public should have meaningful input and participation in that process,” he said.

Thousands of tribe members, environmentalists, and others set up camps last year on Army Corps land in the North Dakota plains as protests intensified. In December, the Obama Administration denied the last permit needed by Energy Transfer Partners, but with Trump’s stated support of the pipeline that victory was short-lived for the tribes.

The Army Corps has said it would close remaining camps on federal lands along the Cannonball River in North Dakota after Feb. 22.

Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, one of the primary groups protesting the pipeline, said people would continue to leave the main camp. He said he expected more demonstrations around the country.

Only a few hundred protesters remained, and crews have been removing tipis and yurts. The Standing Rock tribe has asked protesters to leave.

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Additional reporting by Terray Sylvester in Cannon Ball, North Dakota; Editing by Nick Zieminski, Toni Reinhold)

IMAGE: Crews remove waste from the opposition camp. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Construction Resumes On Dakota Pipeline Despite Tribe’s Challenge

CANNON BALL, N.D./HOUSTON (Reuters) – The company building an oil pipeline that has fueled sustained public protests said on Thursday it has started drilling under a North Dakota lake despite a last-ditch legal challenge from a Native American tribe leading the opposition.

Energy Transfer Partners LP is building the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) to move crude from the Northern Plains to the Midwest and then on to the Gulf of Mexico, now saying it could be operational by early May.

The project had been put on hold under the administration of former Democratic President Barack Obama, but new President Donald Trump, a Republican, helped put it back on track.

The federal government this week cleared way for the project to resume, leading the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to file a court challenge on Thursday seeking a temporary restraining order to halt construction and drilling for the pipeline.

The court set oral arguments on the legal challenge for Monday.

Legal experts say the tribe faces long odds in convincing any court to halt construction,

Energy Transfer Partners needs only to cross beneath Lake Oahe, part of the Missouri River system, to connect a final 1,100-foot (335 meter) gap in the 1,170-mile (1,885 km) pipeline, which will move oil from the Bakken shale formation to a terminus in Patoka, Illinois.

From there the oil would flow to another pipeline connecting south-central Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico and that region’s numerous oil refineries.

Native American tribes and climate activists have vowed to fight the pipeline, fearing it will desecrate sacred sites and endanger a source of the country’s largest drinking water reservoir.

“This administration (Trump’s) has expressed utter and complete disregard for not only our treaty and water rights, but the environment as a whole,” the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe said on Thursday in a statement on its website.

Supporters say the pipeline will be safer than transporting oil by rail or road, and industry leaders have praised the project for creating high-paying jobs

With work on the final tranche now under way, Energy Transfer Partners expects the Dakota Access Pipeline to begin operations in approximately 83 days, according to a company spokeswoman.

“We have started to drill to go beneath Lake Oahe and expect to be completed in 60 days with another 23 days to fill the line to Patoka,” spokeswoman Vicki Granado said in an email.

She declined to specify when drilling began except that it was after the company received federal permission on Wednesday.

Public opposition drew thousands of people to the North Dakota plains last year including high-profile political and celebrity supporters. Large protest camps popped up near the site, leading to several violent clashes and some 700 arrests.

A few hardy protesters have remained camped out near the lake, braving sub-freezing temperatures.

Among them is Frank Archambault, 45, who has lived in the camp since August when he left his home on the Standing Rock reservation.

“It angers me. It angers me because people are pushing other people around, breaking laws,” Archambault said. “They’re trying to kill us off by contaminating the water. We’ve had enough.”

Ptery Light, 55, of Portland, Oregon, who has lived in the main camp since Oct. 31, said he was not giving up hope.

“I just pray that there’s no oil spill,” Light said. “This is purely about greed.”

For now, their hopes are pinned on the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe winning a legal victory.

To obtain the temporary restraining order, the tribe must convince the judge there will be immediate harm suffered and prove it has a strong overall case should its lawsuit to halt the project result in a full trial.

The U.S. district judge in the case, James Boasberg, previously rejected the tribe’s request to block the project, ruling in September that the Army Corps of Engineers likely complied with the law in permitting the pipeline to go forward.

(Additional reporting by Daniel Wallis in New York)

IMAGE: Police vehicles idle on the outskirts of the opposition camp against the Dakota Access oil pipeline near Cannon Ball, North Dakota. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

U.S. Army To Grant Final Permit For Controversial Dakota Pipeline

WASHINGTON/HOUSTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will grant the final easement needed to finish the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, according to a court filing Tuesday.

The line had been delayed for several months after protests from Native American tribes and climate activists. The $3.8 billion line, which is being built by Energy Transfer Partners, needed a final permit to tunnel under Lake Oahe, a reservoir that is part of the Missouri River.

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe, whose reservation is adjacent to the line’s route, has said they will fight the decision. The Army Corps had previously stated that they would undertake further environmental review of the project. The tribe was not immediately available for comment.

The 1,170-mile (1,885 km) line will bring crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken shale region to Patoka, Illinois, and from there connect to the Gulf of Mexico, where many U.S. refineries are located. The tribe had fought the line for months, fearing contamination of their drinking water and damage to sacred sites on their land.

Numerous activists who have been protesting in North Dakota have vowed to stay, although the primary protest camp is located on a flood plain on Army Corps land and is in the process of being cleared.

Their protests, along with those of climate activists, resulted in the Obama administration’s decision to delay a final permit that would allow construction under the Missouri River.

“The discord we have seen regarding the Dakota Access Pipeline doesn’t serve the tribe, the company, the Corps or any of the other stakeholders involved. Now, we all need to work together to ensure people and communities rebuild trust and peacefully resolve their differences,” said John Hoeven, Republican senator from North Dakota, in a statement.

The Army informed the chairs and ranking members of the House Natural Resources and Senate Energy & Natural Resources committees of their intent in a letter on Tuesday.

President Donald Trump, days after being sworn in, issued an executive order directing the U.S. Army Corps to smooth the path to finishing the line. Tuesday’s filing was made in U.S. District Court in Washington D.C.

(Reporting By Valerie Volcovici; editing by Diane Craft and Cynthia Osterman)

IMAGE: A North Dakota National Guard vehicle idles on the outskirts of the Dakota Access oil pipeline protest camp near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S., January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

While We Are Distracted By Tweets, Trump Is Building A Corporate State

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

The destructive toll of Donald Trump’s presidency is beginning to emerge, foreshadowing what’s likely to come as the White House and congressional Republicans begin to reverse, repeal, and replace federal laws and regulations and downsize agencies.

While Trump’s red-state supporters may be cheering now, they’ll soon feel the consequences. Take the Muslim travel ban, if upheld. Thousands of the doctors across rural America are from the countries targeted by Trump, a new analysis by FiveThirtyEight reported. “It’s no secret that the U.S. faces a physician shortage in many parts of the country, especially when it comes to doctors in relatively low-paying specialties like primary care and psychiatry.”

Add to that whatever is done to undermine Obamacare and Medicaid, and one set of dominos is lining up and poised to fall. A possible doctor shortage in the regions that elected Trump is only the start. Since taking office, a mixture of Trump’s executive orders, new proposed legislation in Congress, and directives by just-installed agency heads—the first in a coming wave of appointees—is taking aim to destroy a swath of policies adopted to enhance public health, protect the environment, and help ordinary Americans by curbing corporate greed.

This destructive template doesn’t stop in Washington, either. If anything, it gives license to GOP-held state legislatures to step on and pre-empt progressive laws—such as minimum wage, LGBTQ rights, paid sick days, gun control, natural gas drilling, and immigration sanctuaries—passed in cities where Democrats rule and reside.

“If people had a sense of the number of threats to local decision making there are, either under consideration or that have already been passed by legislatures, their heads would spin,” Democrat Andrew Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, Florida, told PewTrust’s Stateline, in a new piece forecasting more conflict.

It Starts at the Top

Trump’s executive orders may be vague, overreaching, and even unconstitutional in some cases, promising more than the intricate legal gears of government can deliver. But they set an unmistakable tone and direction. To review, his first was to overturn Obamacare, followed by freezing new federal regulations and hiring of non-military employees; barring funds for international family planning; reviving the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines; speeding up issuing of permits to thwart environmental impact review; building a Mexican border wall; expanding the federal deportation machine; deregulating Wall St. finance rules, and more.

Critics have been quick to pounce on the inconsistent and hypocritical statements made by Trump and his team. Last Friday, for example, when surrounded by top Wall Street bankers as he signed an order intended to gut the Dodd-Frank financial reform, Trump said, “We expect to be cutting a lot out of Dodd-Frank, because frankly I have so many people, friends of mine, that have nice businesses and they can’t borrow money.”

Two days later on Fox News Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence fed the network most watched by Trump’s base a different line. “The message that we are sending to Main Street is that we are going to pull back this mountain of red tape that is stifling access to capital and loans.”

Trump’s critics may sneer at Trump for bowing to Wall Street while Pence panders to Main Street, and pledge to carry on resisting. But such personal reactions ignore a growing privatization juggernaut. Beyond the nonstop coverage of the president’s latest dumb tweets, a deeper and darker narrative is unfolding at a policy level. In almost all areas of public responsibility, the fulcrum upon which government moves is swiftly being redirected. And it is almost impossible to keep up with small changes that will have big impacts.

For example, look at what the Federal Communications Commission just did after Trump elevated Ajit Pai, an ex-lawyer for Verizon who was in the panel’s minority of Republicans under Obama, as its new chairman. Under Pai, the FEC released a dozen directives further privatizing the internet in ways that prey on consumers.

“He stopped nine companies from providing discounted high-speed internet service to low-income individuals. He withdrew an effort to keep prison phone rates down, and he scrapped an effort to break open the cable box market,” the New York Times reported. A Wall Street industry analyst said, “The speed of the ruling and the chairman’s tone are very encouraging to internet service providers. I think it’s a down payment on [cutting] net neutrality, with much more to follow.”

Pai didn’t need Senate confirmation, which is the case for the thousands of federal appointees each president makes. As Matt Wood, policy director for Free Press said, “The public wants an FCC that helps people. Instead, it got one that does favors for powerful corporations that its chairman used to work for.”

Congress Joins In

This same pattern is recurring across federal government. But it’s not just with presidential appointments and executive orders. The most solid legal footing for any policy is to be a law passed by Congress and signed by the president, with fine-print regulations adopted under an ensuing rulemaking process.

Most of the press attention is now focused on Trump’s nominees to lead federal agencies and their beliefs. All of Trump’s finalists to lead the Food and Drug Administration want to reverse decades of precedent for approving new drugs. One contender, Jim O’Neill, a former Health and Human Services Department officials who is an associate of Peter Thiel, Trump’s friend and a Silicon Valley billionaire, wants people to use new drugs “at their own risk.” While that kind of deregulation steps on scientific protocol, to say nothing of possibly leading to medical marketing that’s even more hyped than it is now, his views are part of a pro-privatization continuum that is sweeping Congress.

A parallel legislative effort now under way would “redefine science to make issuing health regulations almost impossible,” Stanton Glantz, a UC San Francisco professor who has long studied and criticized the way tobacco companies have flouted public health laws, wrote to his list-serv on Monday. Glantz is referring to a bill slated for a hearing Tuesday in the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology that would limit the research that can be used by the Environmental Protection Agency for drafting industry-curbing regulations.

As Sharon Lerner reported for Intercept.com, this science-curtailing approach was “based on a strategy cooked up by tobacco industry strategists more than two decades ago” by limiting EPA to using data “that can be replicated or made available for independent analysis.” The problem with that standard, she wrote, is “health research often contains confidential personal information that is illegal to share,” thus thwarting precise replication and laws protecting the public. Another part of the bill would allow “industry to keep much of its own inner workings and skewed research secret from the public, while delegitimizing studies done by researchers with no vested interest in their outcome.”

This trend of protecting industry profits while disregarding public impacts isn’t just found in that one bill. Late last week, the House and Senate both voted to “overturn a [U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission] rule designed to stop oil companies striking corrupt deals with foreign governments” by requiring U.S. firms to disclose their billions in payments to foreign governments “in return for rights to natural resources,” said GlobalWitness.org, an anti-corruption group.

“Global Witness notes with concern the complete fabrication of the facts by the Republican leadership in their presentation about the [to-be-discarded] Cardin-Lugar transparency provision,” the group said. “They have relied on the American Petroleum Institute’s ‘facts,’ which have been discredited over the past six years in multiple fora, while being totally unwilling to hear an alternative view.”

License to Pre-Empt

The emerging federal takeover by corporate privateers has a statewide corollary: Republican-controlled legislatures and governors pre-empting progressive local laws adopted in the Democratic strongholds and cities in their states. If anything, the developments in Washington will only empower the stateside Republicans.

Democrats in deep blue coastal states like California see themselves as a new line of defense against Trump’s excesses. Their ability to draw lines and say no will be tested in federal courts soon enough. The executive orders to take away federal funds from sanctuary cities that do not help immigration authorities to deport visa-less immigrants will be a key early test case.

But across much of the nation, a different political dynamic threatens Democrats. Most Democrats live in cities under Democratic mayors, even in red states. Many cities have adopted progressive local laws that Republicans in their capitals want to overrule by pre-empting them with new laws affecting the entire state. In 2017, the GOP controlled the entire Legislature and governor’s office in 24 states. In contrast, Democrats controlled 78 percent of the nation’s 40 largest cities.

Republicans, increasingly, have sought to block actions by cities on a range of economic, environmental, human rights, and workplace issues, Pew’s Stateline just wrote. “The stage looks set for more confrontation between cities and states this year,” they predicted. “Already state lawmakers in Texas and Arkansas are weighing bills that would ban cities from declaring themselves ‘sanctuaries…’ Lawmakers in Kentucky, Virginia and six other states are considering preventing localities from allowing transgender people to use some restrooms.”

The progressive policies targeted by red states for pre-emption include: new gun controls, anti-fracking ordinances; creation of local utility districts, plastic bag fees, and much more. “About 32 states now prohibit localities from regulating ride-hailing companies such as Uber, 23 [states] ban the local minimum wage, 15 [states] ban cities from requiring companies to offer sick days, and three ban [LGBTQ] anti-discrimination ordinance,” Stateline reported.

Surveying the entire spectrum of Trump’s executive orders, his federal agency appointees, the flurry of congressional pro-privatization legislation, and state-side attacks on Democrat-run cities, reveals the true extent of the coming assault on basic government and progressive values that puts people before profits. With Congress and federal agencies swiftly being occupied by corporate privateers, progressives are going to be looking to local lines of defense for the kinds of public services and safety nets they want. But those too are under attack.

“This is really about cities asserting the rights of cities to decide for themselves, consistent with their own community’s values, what solutions are in the best interest of their community,” Tallahassee’s Gillum told Stateline.

In Trump’s America, with the help of a heavy-handed Republican Congress and Republican legislators ready to pre-empt progressive policies, Gillum’s premise will be put to the test. The only thing certain is that more confrontation is coming.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s democracy and voting rights.

IMAGE: U.S. President Donald Trump is welcomed as he speaks to commanders and coalition representatives during a visit to U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, U.S., February 6, 2017.  REUTERS/Carlos Barria