Environmentalists have a new strategy in their crusade against the energy industry: breaking the law.
In Iowa, 40 protesters were arrested for trespassing on a construction site for the $3.7 billion Dakota Access pipeline, which would carry 570,000 barrels of oil daily from North Dakota to Illinois. These arrests follow episodes in which protesters blocked access to construction areas, shackling themselves to equipment, and even setting machinery on fire.
Activists justify their lawlessness by claiming the pipeline will devastate the environment, threaten Native American tribal lands, and contaminate drinking water. According to a federal judge, however, these concerns distort the facts. Obstructing the pipeline won’t help the environment, but would kill thousands of new jobs and millions in economic growth.
Instead of acting outside of the law, environmentalists should stand down.
Leading the controversy is the Standing Rock Sioux tribe of North Dakota. The tribe asked for an injunction to stop construction, claiming that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved permits without properly assessing the project’s environmental impact. They allege that the Corps ignored the pipeline’s potential to destroy cultural sites and pollute the tribe’s primary source of drinking water.
Waves of environmentalists were eager to join the fight. In August, 31 environmental groups sent a letter to President Obama urging him to halt construction.
But such claims are woefully misinformed. Indeed, in outlining the pipeline, planners purposefully dodged historical sites. In North Dakota, they made 140 route alterations to protect cultural areas.
Based on the Corps’ environmental assessment — which followed standard protocol — the pipeline would not cause lasting or substantial environmental damage nor would it cross tribal land.
The Corps communicated with tribes over 250 times. Furthermore, the tribe was invited to survey the pipeline’s route and construction sites, but they passed.
Fortunately, James Boasberg, the federal judge that heard the tribe’s case, agreed with the Corps. He ruled that the tribe had “not demonstrated that an injunction is warranted.” He also noted that the Army Corps “gave the Tribe a reasonable and good-faith opportunity to identify sites of importance to it.”
The story should have ended there. But then President Obama got involved. Minutes after the ruling, the Department of Justice, Department of the Interior, and U.S. Army released a statement halting construction. Later, a federal appeals court officially stopped construction within 20 miles of the lake.
Instead of condemning protesters, the president chose to disregard a federal judge’s ruling. That’s a dangerous precedent to set.
Killing the pipeline sacrifices thousands of jobs and over $200 million in government revenue.
Worse still, halting construction won’t protect the environment. Oil and gas companies have made firm commitments to ensure the pipeline’s safety. Recently, they’ve implemented advanced technology to detect corroding pipe walls or cracks. They’ve also increased inspections and implemented extensive pipeline training protocols.
That’s why 99.999 percent of oil and petroleum products are delivered without incident.
Questioning a pipeline with no environmental impact and enormous economic benefits is an alarming trend for President Obama. Last year, he bowed to environmentalists and rejected the Keystone XL pipeline despite the project posing no significant environmental concerns. That decision blocked 42,000 jobs and $3.4 billion for our GDP.
It’s disturbing that President Obama is siding with violent protesters instead of established permitting rules. It’s time to end the lawlessness and uphold our first-world values.
Robert L. Bradley Jr. is the founder and CEO of the Institute for Energy Research.