The following was written by Carolyn Raffensperger and originally published in The Des Moines Register on December 14, 2016. Raffensperger is the executive director of the Science & Environmental Health Network and serves on the steering team of the Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition.
Revoke Dakota Access Pipeline’s Permit
On Thursday, an important case will be heard in a Polk County courtroom. At stake is the drinking water of Des Moines and the health of the land and people of Iowa, as well as the rights of farmers to tend their land without it being seized through eminent domain and given to an out-of-state oil company. The case is being brought by a unique group of both private landowners and the Sierra Club in their challenge to Dakota Access, the Texas corporation that got approval from the Iowa Utilities Board to use eminent domain to take private land, mostly farms, and put in its crude oil pipeline.
The Iowa Utilities Board granted the permit in March and gave the power of eminent domain to Dakota Access because it said that the out-of-state corporation met the legal test for eminent domain. That test is that the pipeline promoted the “public convenience and necessity.” One of the permit conditions was that Dakota Access would not begin construction until all the other permits were obtained.
The IUB wasn’t the only agency that had to give permits. The Army Corps of Engineers still had not given the permits necessary to cross the rivers of Iowa, including a permit to cross the Des Moines River, which provides some of the drinking water for the state capital.
Dakota Access, in defiance of their permit conditions, began construction anyway. They broke the law and were sanctioned by the IUB. Dakota Access turned around and asked permission to start construction without all their permits but at its own risk. The IUB approved this condition, even though this significantly compromised its earlier ruling and set off Dakota Access’s mad construction rush. Dakota Access didn’t get their major permit from the Army Corps for two more months. On Dec. 4, the Army Corps of Engineers said it will not grant the last permit Dakota Access needs to cross the Missouri River.
Another permit condition was that all of Dakota Access’ parent companies would put up irrevocable guarantees that they would pay for cleanup of spills or accidents. To date, they have not filed all the guarantees that are required by the permit. This means that Iowa will be left holding the bag when the crude oil pipeline spills into our drinking water.
At every step of the way, Dakota Access has broken the law, pushed the boundaries of its permit and bullied its way through the eminent domain process. Beginning construction before it had all its permits was just one of the numerous violations of the permit conditions, which were the basis for the IUB finding that the pipeline promoted the public convenience and necessity.
The standard of “public convenience and necessity” should be a high bar. The only true necessities are clean drinking water, air, food and shelter. The key role of government is to protect those necessities. The test of government must be whether it has protected the drinking water and the land that produces our food.
On Thursday a court will hear arguments about whether the Iowa Utilities Board was correct in deciding whether this crude oil pipeline meets the test of “public convenience and necessity.” The jobs are over but the threat remains. Iowa has already extracted all the small benefits it will get from the pipeline — the Register reported that only 11 of the promised 400 skilled welding jobs went to Iowans. The pipeline is not a done deal, but it is increasingly a doomed deal.
Allowing Dakota Access to keep its permit would be the equivalent of saying the bank robbers already have the money so let them keep it. If the judge finds that they broke the law when they violated their permit conditions, and if he finds that a crude oil pipeline only promotes private convenience and necessity, and if he finds that the real public necessity of clean drinking water is compromised, he must revoke the permit. You be the judge.