For the first time in a week, people weren't out in the streets of Philadelphia protesting Donald Trump today. Instead, about 200 people were pounding the pavement of Center City at the ungodly hour of 8 a.m. protesting a somewhat different threat to the American way of life: The Dakota Access pipeline.
In North Dakota, work crews and their security forces (private and now public) armed with dogs, pepper spray and recently more high-tech weaponry have been racing to install the pipeline -- which would whisk fracked oil from that state's Bakken fields under the Missouri River and into the American Heartland -- before the outside world has too much time to reconsider the environmental impact.
The Inquirer's Jeff Gammage was on the scene:
Near the Municipal Services Building, Ana Alonso, 21, of Philadelphia, helped hold a large banner that said, "Mni Wiconi" - which in the Lakota language means "water is life." She gazed at the crowd, a diverse collection of seniors and college students, black, white, Asian and Indian.
"This is like the American Indian Movement of the 1970s," said Alonso, a member of the Flathead nation in western Montana.
Marchers said they were opposing the pipeline - but also supporting clean water at a time when President-elect Donald Trump has denied the science of climate change and promised to expand production of coal, oil and natural gas.
"We need to be out in the streets!" a man shouted through a bullhorn. "We are going to have to disrupt!"
Heh, disrupt. It's come to my attention that all the protests and disruptions that have occurred since the unfortunate events of 11/9 are especially popular with Attytood commenters, talk radio hosts, etc. The anti-Trump protests, in particular, have been blasted as "pointless." I think time will tell on that. But there's no doubt that the Dakota Access pipeline protests have had a huge impact -- winning support for killing the project on Capitol Hill and getting the attention of the Obama administration.
Recently, the president called on the pipeline consortium, led by Energy Transfer Partners (and supported with your Pennsylvania tax dollars), to re-route the project away from sacred Native American lands. Even better, the Army Corps of Engineers, which originally greenlighted the entire project, has reversed course and ordered a halt to work that would take the pipeline across the Missouri, a key water supply for the northern prairie states. But the soon-to-be-departing president can and should do more. The Obama administration should halt the Dakota Access pipeline, period.
It's true that re-routing the pipeline could -- potentially -- alleviate the concerns about the desecration of Native American lands out west. That's a very important issue. But it still doesn't alleviate the broader safety concerns about the Missouri River basin, especially in the wake of pipeline accidents that have polluted other major American rivers like the Kalamazoo and the Yellowstone. And, in the end, the Dakota Access project suffers from the same issue that afflicts the Keystone XL pipeline that the Obama administration did kill off...for the time being. It sends another signal that the United States isn't very serious about ending its addiction to fossil fuels and speeding up the transition to alternate energy sources.
On January 20, America will inaugurate a new president who is not only a tool of Big Oil, but (as is the case in a number of areas) is also a walking conflict of interest. Here's a brief explanation from Time magazine (which still exists):
Trump has not announced a public position on the pipeline, but everything else we know about Trump suggests that he would support continuing the project. Trump has made scrapping environmental regulations a top priority and North Dakota GOP Congressman Kevin Cramer, a key Trump energy advisor, has said Trump will take particular aim at the Clean Water Act. That is one of the key rules that gives the federal government jurisdiction over the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Beyond policy, Trump owns stock in the company building the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, as well as another company that will own a share of the pipeline once it is completed. He also received more than $100,000 in campaign contributions from the company's CEO.
So, is resistance futile? Absolutely not. For one thing, lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for. More importantly, shutting this project down would force the incoming president to take public action to reverse course -- thus calling attention to his massive personal conflict. And Obama would be leaving office with a powerful statement -- that fighting climate change and pollution from fossil fuels still matters.