Environment | Health

Native Sun News: Tribal rights at issue in Keystone XL pipeline

The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman. All content © Native Sun News.

Actress Tantoo Cardinal and actress Margot Kidder at protest in front of White House over the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline.

WASHINGTON, DC -- At the end of a week of arrests of Native American and other celebrities protesting on the White House lawn, the U.S. State Department launched a new public hearings process about the target of the dissent: TransCanada Corp.’s proposed Keystone XL tar-sands crude-oil pipeline across the heartland of North America.

Demonstrators from the oil company’s home country of Canada and from the United States provoked more than 350 arrests during the week ending Aug. 27, with daily protests expected to continue through Sept. 3. They were hoping to raise enough awareness about the pipeline’s cultural, environmental and economic risks to prevent its construction from linking Alberta Province to the Gulf of Mexico, running through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, to Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

“This is about protecting our land, our water, and our climate,” said Cree actress Tantoo Cardinal as she protested arm-in-arm with fellow Canadian actress Margot Kidder just before their arrests, Aug. 23. “The tar sands destruction has to stop.”

Born in the tar-sands extraction capitol of Ft. McMurray, Alberta, Cardinal is known for her cinematic roles in Legends of the Fall, Dances with Wolves, and Smoke Signals. Kidder is known for playing Lois Lane in four of the original Superman movies.

Tar sands are a combination of clay, sand, water, and bitumen, forming a material similar to soft asphalt, as described in a final environmental impact statement (FEIS) on the proposed pipeline, which the U.S. State Department released Aug. 26. Underground steam injection heats the bitumen for pumping to the earth’s surface for treatment allowing the crude transport and refining.

The final environmental impact statement addresses the composition of the crude oil, the pipeline’s relationship to development of Alberta’s oilfields, greenhouse gas warming, pipeline digging and spills, the potential effect on the shallow Oglalla Aquifer, cultural and archaeological concerns.

“There would be no significant impacts to most resources along the proposed pipeline corridor,” Assistant Secretary Kerri-Ann Jones of the State Department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs said in releasing the FEIS at a national teleconference.

“However, with that statement, there are a lot of follow-on descriptions as to steps that the applicant is required to take and has agreed to take in terms of complying with all applicable laws and regulations,” she said.

TransCanada responded immediately with a news release saying, “TransCanada is pleased that the FEIS for the Keystone XL crude-oil pipeline has reaffirmed the environmental integrity of the project.”

Russ Girling, TransCanada’s president and chief executive officer, noted: “Today’s final environmental impact statement continues to demonstrate the focus on safety and the environment that has gone into the development of this critical North American pipeline.”

The FEIS concludes that the TransCanada pipeline route is better than any proposed alternative, including a no-action alternative. Nonetheless, Jones commented: “Let me say very clearly this is not the rubberstamp for this project. The permit that is required for this process has not been approved or rejected at all.”

She announced the opening of a 90-day consultation period that includes public forums in pipeline states, the involvement of tribes, and input from eight cooperating federal agencies.

The consultation is to decide whether the pipeline is “in the national interest”, which will determine whether the Calgary-based corporation can have a Presidential Permit to operate the line across the international border in the United States. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has promised TransCanada a decision on its 2008 permit application by the end of 2011.

If construction of the pipeline begins early in 2012, it will enable the entire $13-billion Keystone XL Pipeline network to go into operation in 2013, according to Transcanada Corp. However, the State Department said that all federal agencies must adhere to a program negotiated with tribal governments for oversight of the permit process.

“The fundamental issue is energy security,” Girling said. “Through the Keystone system, the U.S. can secure access to a stable and reliable supply of oil from Canada where we protect human rights and the environment, or it can import more higher-priced oil from nations who do not share America’s interests or values.”

In addition to energy security, Keystone XL will create massive and much needed economic benefits to the states it crosses and the United States as a whole, according to the company news release. It says the project would be financed entirely through the private sector without one penny of government subsidy. To date, the State Department has conducted the permitting process, as mandated by executive order, using public money to underwrite the process of obtaining EPA and other approvals.

But during operations, TransCanada expects to contribute more than $5 billion in property taxes to the communities Keystone XL will pass through. In total, the Keystone XL project would create $20 billion worth of economic stimulus for the U.S. economy during construction, the company calculates.

“From pipe manufactured in Arkansas to pump motors made in Ohio, workers in almost every state in the United States benefit from the project and the ongoing development of Canada’s oil sands. Within days of receiving regulatory approval for Keystone XL, TransCanada will begin to put 20,000 Americans to work to construct the project,” it said. “In addition to these direct jobs, independent studies calculate that the construction of Keystone XL will create an additional 118,000 indirect and spin-off jobs for local businesses.

TransCanada’s existing Keystone I Pipeline – completed last year from Alberta through North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois – received a Presidential Permit over the opposition of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate, Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Santee Sioux Tribe of Nebraska, and the Yankton Sioux Tribe, representing more than 46,000 registered tribal members with ancestral lands in that tar-sands crude-oil pipeline construction area. They had asked for an injunction in 2008 to stop the project and to obtain a declaration about its viability.

On Sept. 29, 2011, South Dakota Federal District Judge Charles Kornmann granted Secretary Clinton and corporate interveners their motions to dismiss the case on the grounds that the tribes lacked jurisdiction. The tribes had argued the project didn’t comply with terms of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, American Indian Religious Freedom Act, and National Historic Preservation Act, under all of which the State Department must provide consultations with the tribes.

In the first year of the existing a pipeline’s operation, it was responsible for 12 recorded toxic crude-oil spills, although it was expected to have only one.

For the pipeline now under discussion, higher security standards were imposed, and Jones said, “We did many outreach meetings with different tribes in the states and looked at many of the cultural resources and possible archeological finds that may be there.”

Since 2008, the State Department (DOS) has been consulting with tribes, State Historic Preservation Officers (SPHOs), federal and local agencies under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. As part of this effort, DOS initially contacted more than 95 Indian tribes to find out their level of interest in becoming consulting parties. DOS invited the consulting tribes to prepare Traditional Cultural Property studies.

A programmatic agreement developed with tribal and corporate participation establishes a procedure for identification, evaluation, mitigation, and treatment of historic properties, which will be completed prior to any construction, according to the State Department.

The agreement covers a Tribal Monitoring Plan and a Historic Trails and Archaeological Monitoring Plan for the hundreds of already identified archaeological sites that would be affected. If previously unidentified sites are encountered during construction, TransCanada, DOS, and the consulting parties are supposed to follow procedures described in a chapter on Unanticipated Discovery Plans.

The proposed project area contains many unevaluated stone circle sites that were identified during cultural resource surveys. Several of these sites may be adversely affected by the proposed project, according to the FEIS. The State Department will continue to work with the tribes, Bureau of Land Management, states and applicants to avoid or treat the sites, it said in the environmental impact statement.

Tipi rings, also known as stone circles, are the primary representative of Native American settlement in Montana, South Dakota and other states on the pipeline route in the period before non-Indians arrived, which is known as the “pre-contact” period. Tipi rings are made up of rocks assembled in concentric rings to anchor mobile dwellings, the DOS recognized.

Sites can consist of a single ring to many dozen. The sites often include pits and hearths, and may include artifacts such as fire-cracked rock, animal bone, and stone tools, the environmental impact statement noted.

The proposed pipeline route would cross El Camino Real de Los Tejas National Historic Trail in Nacogdoches County, Texas, and the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail in Montana.

Native Americans used the Texas trail in the pre-contact period before colonists traveled it between settlements. At least four segments of historic roadbeds, which are potentially associated with it, have been identified as historic properties in the proposed project area. Forty-five Indian tribes have notified DOS that they would like to become consulting parties.

Additionally, two tribes are undecided and have been participating in calls and meetings. Nineteen tribes have notified DOS that they do not wish to consult or have no objection to the proposal, but would like to be notified should human remains be found, as the FEIS indicates.

Twenty-seven tribes did not respond to letters inviting consultation. According to the State Department, the tribes initially were invited to consult by letters dated Jan. 30, 2009. Additional tribal members identified by the BLM were invited to consultation by letters dated Feb. 19, 2009.

Another letter from DOS dated April 1, 2009, again invited tribes that had not yet responded to the invitations. Federal personnel made telephone calls March 18 through March 23, 2009 to tribal officials who had not yet responded.

During late September and early October this year, the State Department will host a series of nine public meetings around the United States to give individuals an opportunity to voice their views on whether granting or denying a Presidential Permit for the pipeline would be in the national interest.

The meeting schedule is as follows: Sept. 26, in Port Arthur, Texas; Topeka, Kans. ; Sept. 27, in Glendive, Mont., and in Lincoln, Neb.; Sept. 28, in Austin, Texas; Sept. 29, in Pierre, South Dakota;. and in Atkinson, Neb.; Sept. 30, in Midwest City, Oklahoma; Oct. 7, in Washington, D.C., time and location to be announced.

The FEIS and its Executive Summary, as well as additional details about these meetings (including venues,) are available on the State Department’s website: www.keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov.

In conjunction with the meetings, the DOS is accepting public comments now through midnight on Oct. 9. Details about how to submit comments are available on the State Department’s website.

(Talli Nauman is the Health and Environment Editor for Native Sun News. Contact her at talli.nauman@gmail.com) Copyright permission by Native Sun News

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