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Native Sun News: Tribes cheer denial of Keystone XL permit

The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman, Native Sun News Health & Environment Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

Actress Daryl Hannah, who protested Keystone XL Pipeline at a recent rally on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, narrates the movie “Pipe Dreams” about the tar-sands crude-oil pipeline proposal, which was set to show at the Elks Theatre in Rapid City, South Dakota, at 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 30

Tribal leaders and Native American organizations from the United States and Canada thanked U.S. President Barack Obama for denying TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL Pipeline permit application on Jan. 18.

At the same time, they agreed with other constituents of the Great Plains on the need for continued vigilance as the oil company seeks alternatives for developing its tar-sands crude.

“Tribal governmental leaders from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and the Sac and Fox Nation met with President Obama and his administration in Washington, D.C., in early December to deliver a message to reject the Keystone XL pipeline in defense of Earth,” Indigenous Environmental Network Executive Director Tom Goldtooth said in a joint statement produced by indigenous leaders.

The issue is the subject of the new documentary film “Pipe Dreams”, narrated by award-winning actress Daryl Hannah and directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Leslie Iwerks, scheduled for screening at the Elks Theatre in Rapid City, South Dakota, on Jan. 30 at 6:30 p.m.

Throughout the latter half of 2011, American Indian and other activists mustered opposition to the proposed line connecting Alberta Province tar-sands pits to Texas Gulf Coast refineries via Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Hannah was among the protesters.

Citing violations of treaty territory rights and risks to the Ogallala Aquifer in the Sand Hills of Nebraska, they joined a White House sit-in and submitted a Mother Earth Accord to the Administration with signatures from numerous organizations advocating alternative energy development.

“I say miigwetch, thank you, to the Creator for giving President Obama and the U.S. Department of State the courage, strength and wisdom to deny the Presidential Permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline,” IEN pipeline organizing director Marty Cobenais said in the joint statement.

“Lifting up this issue as a Native rights issue bringing our tribal grassroots and governmental leaders together with environmentalist and private land owners of the prairie lands sent a message loud and clear that this was the right thing to do,” he added.

Debra White Plume, a grandmother of the Oglala Lakota Oyate who was arrested in the White House civil disobedience protest of the pipeline, joined in the statement to say: “Rejection of the Keystone XL Pipeline is a reason to celebrate! At least that source of contamination that was a threat of our drinking water sources, the Missouri River, and the Ogallala Aquifer has been removed. Now we just have to stop the uranium mining that is poisoning the aquifer every day.”

White Plume was one of the main organizers of a Jan. 15 gathering at Porcupine, South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, for the purpose of relating the environmental issues of the uranium mining in Nebraska, Wyoming and Nebraska to the Keystone XL Pipeline and Bakken oil field boom on the Three Affiliated Tribe’s Mandan-Hidatsu-Arikara reservation in North Dakota.

The Calgary, Alberta-based TransCanada Corp. said its $7-billion proposed investment would provide energy security and jobs for the United States. The State Department estimated the number of jobs would be less than 6,000 temporary construction positions and concluded the project would not be in the national interest, prompting Obama’s acceptance of the department’s recommendation to deny the permit to cross the Canada-U.S. border.

“President Obama and the State Department deserve our thanks for having the foresight and courage to reject the permit application for the pipeline,” said Pat Spears, president of the South Dakota-based Intertribal Council on Utility Policy.

“The stated number of jobs on the project was so inflated that it started to outweigh the health, environmental and climate impacts being experienced by the Cree, Dene and Métis communities living downstream from the tar sands in Canada,” he said in the joint statement.

“In any of these carbon intense fossil fuel developments, and its pipeline infrastructures, economic externality costs have to be thoroughly assessed,” Spears noted. “In the Northern Plains our tribes have alternatives for clean renewable energy,” he added.

Clayton Thomas-Muller, IEN Canadian Indigenous Tar Sands Campaign coordinator called the permit decision “one battle won for our Mother Earth.” However, he cautioned, “Other pipeline battles linked to the Canadian tar sands continue.”

TransCanada Corp. said in a written statement that it expects to make “a new application” that it hopes “would be processed in an expedited manner to allow for an in-service date of late 2014.” The company had agreed to make route-change proposals in November, when the Nebraska state government established protections for the Ogallala Aquifer.

A recent Securities Exchange Commission report shows that TransCanada Corp. already has spent nearly $2 billion of the anticipated $7 billion investment om the project, without ever breaking ground.

A company executive told Bloomberg that TransCanada Corp. will take a carrot-and-stick approach to achieving its goal of increasing tar-sands stocks and pipelines.

With Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Administration prodding Obama’s from behind, TransCanada Corp. is dangling the promise upfront of pipeline construction -- not only for petroleum from Canada, but now for the North Dakota and Montana oil fields, as well. Petroleum from the booming conventional oil extraction activities in the rich Bakken formation there currently lacks distribution infrastructure.

TransCanada Corp. President of Energy and Oil Pipelines Alex Pourbaix told Bloomberg that he might have contractors build the U.S. part of the pipeline between the Bakken and Texas first, “to accelerate the construction.”

Meanwhile the company can make a new application for a Presidential Permit. If it is approved, contractors could connect the infrastructure to the Canadian tar sands later, he said.

TransCanada already has Montana’s permission for the pipeline’s 283-mile right-of-way through the state. In exchange, Montana required TransCanada to create an “on-ramp” for local oil production, according to High Plains Justice, a public interest law center that also represented the South Dakota non-profit Dakota Rural Action in Keystone XL Pipeline proceedings at the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission.

Houston-based Quanta Services has the contract to build the Keystone XL Pipeline. It is a Fortune 500 company with 14,000 employees, major offices in 40 states, and field operations across the United States and Canada. TransCanada Corp.’s Plan B, should it fail in its upcoming bid for a permit on a new route through the United States, calls for routing through Canada to the Pacific Coast. However Canadian First Nations have demonstrated opposition to the idea.

“We remain vigilant in our work with First Nations in Canada and grassroots leaders to halt the tar sands,” Clayton-Muller said in the joint statement. “We are working with activists in British Columbia to stop the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, and other pipelines throughout Canada.”

TransCanada Corp.’s first tar-sands crude-oil line into the United States, which runs from Alberta through North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska on its way to Midwest refineries, has had 14 known spills since the start of operations in June 2010, according to High Plains Justice.

South Dakota workers got 11 percent of the construction jobs on that line, it said.

The law center has produced two reports on pipeline safety and emergency response planning at the request of citizens concerned about the Keystone Pipeline system.

Due to a Congressional rider on a December tax-relief extension act, the Administration had 60 days to decide on TransCanada’s Presidental Permit application.

“As the State Department made clear last month, the rushed and arbitrary deadline insisted on by Congressional Republicans prevented a full assessment of the pipeline’s impact, especially the health and safety of the American people, as well as our environment,” Obama announced on Jan. 18. “As a result, the Secretary of State has recommended that the application be denied. And after reviewing the State Department’s report, I agree,” he said.

In a State Department briefing, Assistant Secretary Kerri-Ann Jones said the department “recommended to President Obama that the Presidential Permit for the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline be denied and that at this time the TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline be determined to not serve the national interest.”

Lawrence County resident Don Kelley, who is a member of Dakota Rural Action, said he opposes the project because tar-sands crude is “one of the most environmentally harmful forms of fossil fuel” and promotes global warming.

“I wish Obama had just said, ‘We’re never going to do that’,” Kelley told the Native Sun News. “The project has been delayed but it’s still potentially alive, and no matter where it gets routed it is inherently a very destructive thing.”

Republican leadership vowed to continue supporting the project, prompting swift responses from Rosebud Sioux Tribe President Rodney Bordeaux and Occupy Rapid City leadership.

South Dakota Sen. John Thune criticized Obama's as “politically motivated,” in a written statement saying: “In rejecting the job-creating Keystone XL pipeline, President Obama today chose to try and save his own job by pandering to his anti-pipeline environmental extremist voting bloc, over creating jobs for thousands of Americans.

“Congress should not accept the President's decision to put politics over job creation and should instead use all resources available to ensure that the Keystone XL project moves forward to put Americans back to work and reduce our nation's dependence on oil from the Middle East,” Thune said in the Jan. 18 statement.

Bordeaux responded with a letter to Thune, saying, “I take great offense in your statement lumping the interests of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, interests that have been recognized in treaties, federal statutes and upheld in federal courts, into the same category as the ‘anti-environmental extremist voting bloc’.”

Demanding Thune “clarify Keystone comments and apologize, Bordeaux said: “The Rosebud Sioux Tribe has opposed both the TransCanada Pipeline and the TransCanada XL Pipeline based upon tribal treaty rights guaranteed by the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie, the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie, protection of grave sites and sacred sites, (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, 25 U.S.C. Section 3001 et. sex., Pub. L. 101-601), protection of cultural, religious and historical sites, (National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, 16 U.S.C. Section 470 et. seq., Pub. L. 89-665), protection of the Ogallala Aquifer from contamination of potential catastrophic contamination, and protection of our lands and waters on the Rosebud Sioux Tribe aboriginal treaty lands from desecration from tar sands sludge spills."

“The previous TransCanada pipeline crossing eastern North and South Dakota has had fourteen spills in North Dakota resulting in over 21,000 gallons spill of tar sands sludge. Tar-sands sludge is 16 times more toxic than crude oil,” Bordeaux said in the letter.

“The possible catastrophe to clean and safe drinking water and our land and natural resources is far greater than any short-term benefit in a brief spike in construction jobs. In addition, the forecasts of additional property tax windfalls have fallen short by one-third of the original estimates,” the tribal president concluded.

Rapid City, South Dakota activist Clay Uptain also responded to the GOP insistence on supporting the pipeline: “It was disappointing to me to hear that they are going to put it back on the table and keep trying to cram it down the public’s throat.

“This type of oil comes with a lot higher environmental risk, and with our concern for the seven generations in the future we think this is a horrible idea of corporations that are into short-term profits.”

Uptain was set to moderate a public discussion following the “Pipe Dreams” showing on Monday, which is co-sponsored by Dakota Rural Action and Voices of the Heartland independent film society. Landowners featured in the documentary are scheduled to be on the panel discussion following the 39-minute film. Local panel members include Jim Peterson of South Dakota Peace and Justice and former South Dakota State Sen. Tom Katus. Admission is $5.

(Talli Nauman is the Health and Environment Editor for Native Sun News and you can contact her at

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