On July 1, 2021, the Supreme Court released its decision in a prominent voting rights case that Indigenous activists and attorneys say will make it harder for people of color — especially Indigenous populations — to vote.
In the case, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, the court looked at whether a pair of voting policies in Arizona violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, a provision that prohibits voting laws or practices that discriminate on the basis of race, color or language. In a 6-3 vote split between its conservative and liberal judges, the court upheld Arizona’s policy disqualifying any ballot cast in the wrong precinct as well as a 2016 law that made it a felony for anyone but a family member, household member or caregiver to return another person’s mail ballot — a method known as ballot harvesting or collecting, often used by get-out-the-vote groups to increase turnout.
The latest case is one of the most potentially perilous decisions for Indigenous voters since Shelby County vs. Holder eight years ago, voting rights attorneys say. Shelby overturned a portion of the Voting Rights Act, allowing state legislatures to pass voter laws without federal oversight. That paved the way for more restrictive voter legislation, including the Arizona laws at the heart of Brnovich. The Supreme Court’s decision could not only make voting harder for rural Indigenous voters, Indigenous voting advocates and attorneys say, it will also make it harder to challenge new voting rules that disproportionately affect Indigenous populations and people of color.
“The (court) set goalposts that are really hard to meet and said that sometimes discriminatory effects can be small enough that they don’t matter,” Native American Rights Fund staff attorney Jacqueline De León (Isleta Pueblo) said. “And that is particularly disturbing to Native Americans, because in this instance they were saying some Native communities don’t matter.”
In Arizona, where 27 percent of the state land is tribal land and about 6 percent of the population is Indigenous, the nearest ballot box might be from 45 minutes to more than two hours away. “Because of that distance, it was common practice for neighbors, clan, relatives or extended family and otherwise people who are considered kin in terms of tribal relations to pick up your ballot and return it because they were making that two-hour drive,” Torey Dolan, a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and Native Vote fellow at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, said.
Unmoved by this reality, the court ruled that Arizona’s ballot-collection law did not violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, saying that having to identify one’s polling place and then travel there to vote does not exceed the “usual burdens of voting.”
FILE – In this Nov. 5, 2020, file photo the Supreme Court is seen in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
Indigenous people first gained the right to vote in 1924 through the Indian Citizenship Act. But tribal communities’ ability to vote has long been hindered by intentional discrimination. Obstacles include a lack of polling stations on reservations, cumbersome traveling requirements and ballots that fail to adhere to the minority language requirement of the Voting Rights Act. Meanwhile, gerrymandered districts are deliberately designed to dilute the impact of tribal votes.
After the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965, civil rights attorneys and tribes were able to challenge these discriminatory voting practices in court — and win. One of the main weapons in their arsenal was Section 2 of the law. But in Brnovich v. DNC, the Supreme Court changed what Section 2 can do to protect voters.
Tribal members on the Navajo Nation and in other rural areas often possess non-standard addresses that make it difficult for counties to place them in the correct precinct. In addition, unreliable internet access makes it hard to find precinct information online. Until 2020, even tribal members with internet access lacked a publicly available tool online to verify precincts with non-standard addresses, Dolan said. As a result, the ballots of Indigenous voters were discarded at a rate higher than those of non-Native, particularly white, voters, in the 2016 election.
While the court acknowledged that Arizona’s out-of-precinct policy can burden Indigenous, Black and Latino communities more than non-minority voters, it dismissed the racial disparity as being “small in absolute terms.” “A policy that appears to work for 98 percent or more of voters to whom it applies — minority and non-minority alike — is unlikely to render a system unequally open,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote.
This particular ruling is very alarming, Dolan said. “When you consider the court’s emphasis on statistics and number of voters impacted, the Supreme Court (might say) 2,000 Native Americans are impacted, and out of this really sizable Native American population — that’s not enough to make a difference,” Dolan said. “But that number could be an entire tribe.”
The Democratic National Committee argued that both Arizona laws disproportionately affected Black, Latino and Indigenous voters and were enacted with “discriminatory intent.” Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich welcomed the ruling as a means to prevent voter fraud, despite the fact that there has never been a case of voter fraud associated with ballot collection in Arizona.
“One of the really disturbing things that this case did was it allowed this idea of fake voter fraud to serve as a justification for discrimination,” De León said. “It didn’t require states to prove that there was actually a risk or even a result of voter fraud in their states. They just allowed the lie to be accepted as a justification. And that really just unburdened states in a lot of ways from having to prove their justifications for laws and instead put that burden on litigants.”
Midterm elections are still more than a year away, but Indigenous voting rights and activists, such as OJ Semans, Rosebud Sioux Tribe, co-executive of the Indigenous voting rights advocacy nonprofit Four Directions, are already hard at work. “We’re already warning tribes, ‘This is coming now, we’re going to need to prepare,’” Semans said. Meanwhile, De León believes that Congress needs to act by reforming the Voting Rights Act or passing the Native American Voting Rights Act.
“At the end of the day, the margins on the most consequential elections are exceedingly small, and Native communities are the missing votes in a lot of those communities,” De León said. “That’s why all of this effort is going into stopping the Native vote. … They know that it would change the status quo, and that’s worth fighting for.”
CALGARY, Alberta — The remains of as many as 751 people, mainly Indigenous children, were discovered at the site of a former school in the province of Saskatchewan, a Canadian Indigenous group said Thursday, jolting a nation grappling with generations of widespread and systematic abuse of Indigenous people.
The discovery, the largest one to date, came weeks after the remains of 215 children were found in unmarked graves on the grounds of another former boarding school in British Columbia.
Both schools were part of a system that took Indigenous children in the country from their families over a period of about 113 years, sometimes by force, and housed them in church-run boarding schools, where they were prohibited from speaking their languages.
A National Truth and Reconciliation Commission, established in 2008 to investigate, expose and document the history and consequences of the residential schools, called the practice “cultural genocide.” Many children never returned home and their families were given only vague explanations of their fates, or none at all. Canada had about 150 residential schools and an estimated 150,000 Indigenous children passed through the schools between their opening, around 1883, and their closing in 1996.
“This was a crime against humanity, an assault on a First Nation people,” Chief Bobby Cameron, of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, the provincial federation of Indigenous groups, said during a news conference Thursday. “The only crime we ever committed as children was being born Indigenous.”
It is unclear how the children died at the church-run schools, which were buffeted by disease outbreaks a century ago, and where children faced sexual, physical and emotional abuse and violence. Some former students of the schools have described the bodies of infants born to girls impregnated by priests and monks being incinerated.
The commission estimated that about 4,100 children went missing nationwide from the schools. But an Indigenous former judge who led the commission, Murray Sinclair, said in an email this month that he now believed the number was “well beyond 10,000.”
The discovery in Saskatchewan was made by the Cowessess First Nation at the Marieval Indian Residential School, about 87 miles from the provincial capital, Regina.
Local Indigenous leaders on Thursday demanded an inquiry into what they called a “genocide,” and called for the church and the government to turn over all records related to the administration of the schools.
Chief Cadmus Delorme, of the Cowessess First Nation, also called for Pope Francis to apologize, saying that the Roman Catholic Church needed to address its actions. Delorme said that his Indigenous community, spurred by the discovery at Kamloops and in conjunction with technical teams from Saskatchewan Polytechnic, began combing the area using ground penetrating radar on June 2, hitting as many as 751 unmarked graves. He said he expected more bodies would be discovered.
For Canada’s 1.7 million Indigenous citizens, who make up about 4.9% of the population, the discovery of yet another mass burial site is a visceral reminder of centuries of discrimination and abuse, which has led to intergenerational trauma among survivors of residential schools and their families.
It is also a powerful vindication of their testimonies. While the recent findings have intensified attention to the issue, Indigenous people had been suggesting for decades through their oral histories that thousands of children had disappeared from the schools, but had often been met with skepticism.
“There’s no denying this: All of the stories told by our survivors are true,” Cameron said.
The latest findings are likely to deepen the nation’s debate over its history of exploiting Indigenous people and refocus attention on the horrors of the schools, a stain in the history of Canada, a country which has often been perceived, fairly or not, as a bastion of progressivism and multiculturalism.
Florence Sparvier, 80, an elder of the Cowessess First Nation, said she attended two residential schools, including Marieval, the school where the unmarked remains were found.
“They were very condemning about our people,” she said of the nuns at the schools. “They told us our people, our parents, our grandparents didn’t have a way to be spiritual because we were all heathens.”
In September 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged the nation’s past “humiliation, neglect and abuse” of Indigenous people, and vowed in a speech at the U.N. General Assembly to improve the lives of the country’s Indigenous people. The latest discoveries will add pressure for him to accelerate those efforts, which many Indigenous people complain have fallen short.
When Trudeau took office in 2015, he made the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 recommendations a top priority. But progress has been slow, in part because some of them are beyond the federal government’s control. The Indian Act, a collection of laws dating to the 19th century that govern the lives of Indigenous people, also remains in place despite Trudeau’s promises to move it into a new system under their control. Cameron and several other Indigenous leaders say that they hope the discovery of the children’s remains will accelerate the process.
“We are tired of being told what to do and how to do it,” Delorme said.
The remains of the 215 children were discovered at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia last month through the use of ground-penetrating radar. Much like an MRI scan of the body, the technology produces images of anomalies in the soil.
The search at the Kamloops school is continuing and the First Nation leaders said that they expected the count to rise further.
When the commission tried to look into the question of missing Indigenous children, the Conservative government at the time turned down its request for money to finance searches. Since the Kamloops discovery at the end of May, several Canadian governments have offered to pay for searches.
On Tuesday, the federal government announced that it would provide just under 4.9 million Canadian dollars (about $3.9 million) to Indigenous communities in Saskatchewan to search for graves. The provincial government previously committed 2 million Canadian dollars ($1.6 million).
Like Kamloops, the Marieval school, which opened in 1899, was operated for most of its history by the Roman Catholic Church for the government of Canada. A marked cemetery still exists on the grounds of the school, which closed in 1997 and was subsequently demolished.
The commission called for a papal apology for the role of the church, which operated about 70% of the schools. (The rest were run by Protestant denominations.) But despite a personal appeal from Trudeau to the Vatican, Francis has still not taken that step. By contrast, the leadership of the United Church of Canada, the country’s largest Protestant denomination, apologized in 1986 for its role in running the schools.
Since the Kamloops announcement, Cameron said, he has been traveling around the province, where farming and mining are major industries, looking at former school sites.
“You can see with your plain eye the indent of the ground where these bodies are to be found,” he said in an interview Wednesday night. “These children are sitting there, waiting to be found.”
The U.S. Department of Interior will formally investigate the impact of federal Indian boarding schools, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced before tribal leaders on Tuesday.
The new “Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative” will result in a detailed report compiled by the Interior and will include historical records of boarding school locations, burial sites and enrollment logs of children’s names and tribal affiliations. Haaland made the announcement virtually at the 2021 National Congress of American Indians mid-year conference, a four-day gathering for tribal leaders, policymakers, and partners to discuss issues currently facing Indian Country.
It was meant to be an express line from North America’s largest proven oil reserve to its biggest refining center and to deepen the bond between Canada and the United States as petroleum partners.
And it would have stood—or rather, lain—four feet underground, as a 1,700-mile steel monument to humanity’s triumph over the forces that at the time seemed to threaten the future of an oil-driven economy. Conventional oil reservoirs might be running out and alarms might be sounding over the damage that carbon dioxide pollution was doing to the atmosphere, but the Keystone XL pipeline would show America’s determination to carve out ever new oil corridors.
At least, that’s how it looked in 2008, when TransCanada and its partners announced plans to forge a $7 billion link between Alberta’s tar sands and the Texas Gulf Coast. By the time the company now known as TC Energy announced earlier this month that it was giving up the effort to build the pipeline, it was clear that oil could not so easily conquer the realities of the 21st century.
The 13-year fight over Keystone XL transformed the U.S. environmental movement, and dramatically shifted the political center of the American debate over energy and climate change. Instead of trying to get people to care about the future impact of a gas—carbon dioxide—that they couldn’t smell or see, environmentalists began focusing on the connection between climate change and the here-and-now effects of fossil fuel dependence: the takeover of land; the risk to air and water; and the injustice to those in the path of the fossil fuel industry’s plans. President Barack Obama’s presidency was a barometer of this change. Early on, his administration seemed poised to approve Keystone XL. Near the end of his second term, Obama became the first world leader to block a major U.S. oil infrastructure project over climate change.
But as Keystone XL’s brief revival under President Donald Trump demonstrated, the battle over oil’s future is far from over. Climate activists are pushing for President Joe Biden to stop Line 3, another Canadian tar sands pipeline now under construction in Minnesota. But the larger issue for the climate action movement is whether the United States can enact a comprehensive policy that truly reshapes energy use, as Biden has pledged to do, phasing out dependence on oil and its imprint on the American landscape.
‘Drill, Baby, Drill’
TransCanada announced its plan to build the Keystone XL in July 2008. In the oil and gas industry’s view it seemed impeccable timing, coinciding with a surging oil market. The price of crude soared past $140 a barrel that month; no one knew at the time that the record price was a peak the market would never hit again. It seemed like the world was entering an era of sustained high oil prices that would pump nothing but profit out of the energy-intensive production of thick, sticky bitumen from the sandy soil of remote Alberta.
Politically, a proposal to double the amount of Canadian oil coming into the United States also seemed well-timed. Even though both candidates for the 2008 presidential election said they favored action on climate change, there was no talk of it on the campaign trail or in debates. A bill to cut U.S. carbon emissions died in the Senate that summer, with neither Republican John McCain nor Democrat Barack Obama showing up to vote. People were worried about high gasoline prices. The chant that shook the rafters at the Republican convention was “Drill, Baby, Drill.”
But the timing of TransCanada’s project also made the pipeline a perfect target for a ferocious backlash against both the fossil fuel industry and government inaction on climate change.
After Obama won the election and Democrats gained control of Congress, there was at first little sign that Keystone XL was in trouble, certainly not over its climate impact. International climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009 failed to yield an agreement. And with Obama’s House-passed climate bill foundering in the Senate, the president sought to win support from moderate Democrats by making concessions on oil. In early April 2010, he announced a plan to reverse a long-standing ban on offshore drilling on the Atlantic coast. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s department then released a draft environmental impact statement that seemed to clear the way for Keystone XL, concluding that its environmental impact would be “limited.”
Five days later, BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded. And over the next 87 days, more than 200 million gallons of oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening ecosystems and the fishing and coastal economies, in what is regarded as the worst accidental marine oil spill in the history of the oil and gas industry. An orange sheen on the water, tar balls washing up on beaches and oiled pelicans provided vivid evidence that despite its claims to safety, the oil industry made mistakes and took shortcuts. And its plans for controlling a catastrophe were inadequate.
While the Deepwater Horizon well was still gushing, another historic U.S. oil disaster began to unfold that got less attention, but had even more relevance to Keystone XL. More than 1 million gallons of diluted Canadian bitumen spilled into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River from a ruptured pipeline in Marshall, Michigan. The heavy oil didn’t float, as conventional oil would; it sank to the river bottom, fouling 36 miles of the river and forcing 150 families permanently from their homes. The pipeline company, Enbridge, never informed federal officials of the complexity of handling heavy oil. It became the costliest inland oil spill in U.S. history, with a clean-up price tag of more than $1 billion.
The Kalamazoo spill was a turning point for ranchers and other landowners in the path of the Keystone XL, as Sue Kelso of Oklahoma told Inside Climate News in 2012. “I live in fear that this pipeline will go through and ruin all the water,” she said at the time. Kelso took TransCanada to court to fight its effort to obtain a pipeline easement on her family farm using eminent domain. Scores of ranchers and other landowners followed suit.
The fear and anger of landowners on the Keystone XL corridor was mounting at the precise moment that climate activists were confronting the strength of the forces lined up against them in Washington, D.C. Obama failed to push the Democratic-controlled Congress to act on climate, and the window of opportunity shut when Republicans regained control over the House in the 2010 midterms. “The environmental movement was in a dismal place following years of failed inside-the-beltway strategy,” Bob Wilson, a Syracuse University geographer who studies the environmental movement, recalled several years ago.
Climate activists needed a new game plan, and they looked to the indigenous tribes and conservative ranching communities of the Great Plains who were fighting Keystone XL.
Building a Sense of Trust
No one did more to build common cause between local communities and environmental groups than Jane Kleeb, a professional organizer who had moved to Nebraska to raise a family. She founded a group, Bold Nebraska, that did more than lobby, litigate and protest. It planned creative events to connect citizens from diverse cultural and political backgrounds—a renewable energy barn-raising, a large crop art project and a Harvest of Hope concert, held on a family farm and featuring Willie Nelson and Neil Young. Defying the historic tension between ranchers and Native American tribes in northern Nebraska, Bold Nebraska helped forge a Cowboy Indian Alliance (CIA) to fight a common foe—Keystone XL.
“We had this responsibility and sense of trust with one another, so that the tactics of divide and conquer that they normally would use never worked on this fight,” said Kleeb. “We helped change the face of what an environmentalist or climate activist looks like. You had people who were directly impacted by the pain, or potential consequences of these projects coming forward, being the ones to speak out, rather than kind of highly educated, you know, more coastal environmentalists.”
Environmentalists changed their methods, too. This August will mark the 10th anniversary of the first of a series of sit-ins against Keystone XL at the White House, organized by environmental author-turned-activist Bill McKibben and the organization he co-founded, 350.org. More than 1,250 people were arrested, including McKibben, climate scientist James Hansen and Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune, who ended the group’s 120-year prohibition against acts of civil disobedience.
“This particular project—Keystone XL pipeline—is so horrendous, it’s so wrong, and it’s being proposed at such an important time that we don’t want to leave any tool on the table,” Brune said at the time.
Little by little, the Obama administration changed course. In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency calculated that the energy required to process tar sands oil and transport it through Keystone XL would generate 1.3 billion more tons of greenhouse gas emissions over the pipeline’s 50-year lifespan than if it were carrying conventional crude. In November 2015, on the eve of Paris climate talks where Obama hoped to seal his legacy with a landmark global deal to cut carbon emissions, he rejected the Keystone XL as counter to the role of the United States as a global climate leader.
“Once the grass-roots movement on the Keystone pipeline mobilized, it changed what it meant to the president,” presidential historian Douglas Brinkley told The New York Times. “It went from a routine infrastructure project to the symbol of an era.”
Beyond the Keystone XL
The Keystone XL battle spawned other pipeline showdowns, altering the U.S. political landscape, with results that are still unfolding. Young activists visited the protest site in North Dakota where the Standing Rock Sioux tribe faced off against the Dakota Access pipeline in 2016. Among them was a former Bernie Sanders campaigner, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who was inspired by the experience to run for office herself under the banner of environmental justice and climate action.
Dakota Access was completed, one of the few accomplishments of Trump’s drive to accelerate oil and gas infrastructure. But a judge ruled that Trump illegally sidestepped environmental review of the project, which is now in the Biden administration’s hands. In the face of unrelenting local opposition and low energy prices, Williams Company, an energy firm, canceled a planned natural gas pipeline in New York State, and Dominion Energy withdrew its plan for a pipeline cutting across the Appalachian Trail in Virginia.
As for Keystone XL, it was stalled by litigation throughout the Trump administration, and the economics also went south. With oil prices half of what they were in 2008, and banks and investors pulling out of Canadian tar sands projects, TC Energy was relying on the Alberta government for financing and loan guarantees. The pipeline was only 8 percent built when Biden canceled its border-crossing permit on his first day in office.
But even as pipelines were blocked, frackers were tapping new stores of oil in the shale rock beneath West Texas, North Dakota and New Mexico. Over the 13-year battle over Keystone XL, the United States regained its spot as the leading oil producer, in a world that is on track to consume a record 101 million barrels of crude per day by next year.
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Beyond the Keystone XL, Biden has sought to avoid getting pulled into pipeline battles. Instead, he has pursued what one analyst described as a “demand-side” policy: seeking to lay the groundwork for a clean energy future that would dry up demand for oil. To meet Biden’s Paris climate agreement pledge of cutting U.S. carbon emissions in half by 2030, an estimated half of new cars sold would by then have to be electric.
But Biden’s climate plan, including the funding of an electric vehicle charging network and other infrastructure essential for a clean energy future, is facing roadblocks in an evenly and deeply divided Congress. And while that inside-the-beltway fight continues, hundreds of climate activists are chaining themselves to construction equipment in Minnesota, seeking to stop Enbridge from replacing an aging Canadian tar sands pipeline. They are calling on Biden to withdraw Enbridge’s permits for Line 3, just as he did for Keystone XL, without waiting for policy that one day, in theory, will eliminate the need for oil pipelines.
“Biden has to make an aggressive step in saying if we’re going to hit these climate change goals that we’ve set out, that means we cannot continue to build fossil fuel projects,” said Kleeb.
But, she said, she worries about division. With her voice breaking, she recalled a confrontation at a bar in Minnesota between her group of climate and tribal activists and a huddle of local residents. Her group began to leave the bar, but Kleeb turned around and went back. “Knowing what I just spent a decade doing in Nebraska, I can’t leave with them thinking that we’re these out-of-touch liberal elites, and not know why we’re fighting this pipeline,” she said. The evening ended with laughter and high-fives, she said, after some discussion of eminent domain, and foreign tar sands oil crossing their state to head for export markets.
Kleeb said she feels that not enough time has been spent building bridges between the activist and rural communities. And she thinks that’s a lesson for Biden and the larger drive for a clean energy transition, which would require the build-out of renewable energy in red states.
“A lot of people are very skeptical of corporations pushing wind and solar because they haven’t been treated well, and they haven’t really been engaged in the conversations around climate,” Kleeb said. “So there’s a lot of work to do.”
Marianne Lavelle is a reporter for Inside Climate News. She has covered environment, science, law, and business in Washington, D.C. for more than two decades. She has won the Polk Award, the Investigative Editors and Reporters Award, and numerous other honors. Lavelle spent four years as online energy news editor and writer at National Geographic. She spearheaded a project on climate lobbying for the nonprofit journalism organization, the Center for Public Integrity. She also has worked at U.S. News and World Report magazine and The National Law Journal. While there, she led the award-winning 1992 investigation, “Unequal Protection,” on the disparity in environmental law enforcement against polluters in minority and white communities. Lavelle received her master’s degree from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and is a graduate of Villanova University.
I have two pieces of wonderful news to share with you! As of yesterday, TC Energy at last canceled all remaining plans for the Keystone XL pipeline (KXL). The Zombie Pipeline is finally completely dead! At the same time, I was able to negotiate a deal with the South Dakota state’s attorney and avoid jail time for my KXL protest last year.
It was a good day not just for me, personally, but for all water protectors. This shows that — even as many states around the country continue to pass laws criminalizing protest — the people still have power. Our activism can make a real difference. As my fellow Cheyenne River protester, Oscar High Elk, said yesterday, “Respect our existence, or expect our resistance.”
Of course, as you know, our resistance still has much left to accomplish. I’m grateful that KXL’s immediate threats to our land and water are gone, along with the dangers its mancamps presented to Indigenous women and girls in Lakota Country. But Dakota Access still operates — without a legal permit — and Line 3 presents the same peril to the homelands of our Anishinaabe sisters and brothers in Minnesota.
Now, it’s time to #StopLine3 and continue our #NoDAPL fight. The cards are always stacked against us, but we have shown time and time again our resilience, the power of our movement, and our ability to triumph against the greatest odds.
Just this week, hundreds gathered at a pump station near the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Minnesota, led by my sisters in arms, for the largest Line 3 protest yet. Reports tell us that a Department of Homeland Security helicopter harassed them, kicking up dust and gravel in an attempt to deter my relatives. It didn’t work. More than 100 were arrested, and we aren’t done yet. Like Lakota Law’s team, I’m considering ways I can best support this movement going forward. Because — take it from me — we can win!
Wopila — I’m very grateful for your solidarity with our resistance. Jasilyn Charger via the Lakota People’s Law Project
The Keystone XL pipeline project is officially terminated, the sponsor company announced Wednesday.
Calgary-based TC Energy is pulling the plug on the project after Canadian officials failed to persuade President Joe Biden to reverse his cancellation of its permit on the day he took office.
The company said it would work with government agencies “to ensure a safe termination of and exit from” the partially built line, which was to transport crude from the oil sand fields of western Canada to Steele City, Nebraska.
“Through the process, we developed meaningful Indigenous equity opportunities and a first-of-its-kind, industry leading plan to operate the pipeline with net-zero emissions throughout its lifecycle,” said François Poirier, TC Energy’s president and chief executive officer in a statement.
The pipeline has been front and center of the fight against climate change, especially in Indigenous communities. Native people have been speaking out, organizing, and in opposition of the project for several years.
“OMG! It’s official,” Dallas Goldtooth, Mdewakanton Dakota and Diné, wrote on Twitter regarding Keystone XL’s termination. “We took on a multi-billion dollar corporation and we won!!”
Goldtooth is part of the Indigenous Environmental Network. The network said it has been organizing for more than 10 years against the pipeline.
“We are dancing in our hearts because of this victory!” wrote the network in a statement. “From Dene territories in Northern Alberta to Indigenous lands along the Gulf of Mexico, we stood hand-in-hand to protect the next seven generations of life, the water and our communities from this dirty tar sands pipeline. And that struggle is vindicated. This is not the end – but merely the beginning of further victories.”
The network noted that water protector Oscar High Elk still faces charges for standing against Keystone.
Construction on the 1,200-mile pipeline began last year when former President Donald Trump revived the long-delayed project after it had stalled under the Obama administration.
It would have moved up to 830,000 barrels of crude daily, connecting in Nebraska to other pipelines that feed oil refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Biden canceled it in January over long standing concerns that burning oil sands crude would make climate change worse.
In this Feb. 18, 2020, photo, a protester plays a drum and sings while joined by others opposing the Keystone XL Pipeline at the South Dakota Capitol. (AP Photo/Stephen Groves, File)
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had objected to the move, although officials in Alberta, where the line originated, expressed disappointment in recent weeks that Trudeau didn’t push Biden harder to reinstate the pipeline’s permit.
Alberta invested more than $1 billion in the project last year, kick-starting construction that had stalled amid determined opposition to the line from environmentalists and Native American tribes along its route.
Alberta officials said Wednesday they reached an agreement with TC Energy, formerly known as TransCanada, to exit their partnership. The company and province plan to try to recoup the government’s investment, although neither offered any immediate details on how that would happen.
“We remain disappointed and frustrated with the circumstances surrounding the Keystone XL project, including the cancellation of the presidential permit for the pipeline’s border crossing,” Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said in a statement.
The province had hoped the pipeline would spur increased development in the oil sands and bring tens of billions of dollars in royalties over decades.
Attorneys general from 21 states had sued to overturn Biden’s cancellation of the pipeline, which would have created thousands of construction jobs. Republicans in Congress have made the cancellation a frequent talking point in their criticism of the administration, and even some moderate Senate Democrats including Montana’s Jon Tester and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin had urged Biden to reconsider.
Tester said in a statement Wednesday that he was disappointed in the project’s demise, but made no mention of Biden.
Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the top Republican on the Senate energy committee, was more direct: “President Biden killed the Keystone XL Pipeline and with it, thousands of good-paying American jobs.”
A White House spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on TC Energy’s announcement.
In case you missed it, a recent decision in the legal saga of the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) will keep the oil flowing while an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is done over the next nine months — and the courts have essentially stepped away from responsibility to shut operations down. Sadly, in his latest opinion, D.C. Judge James Boasberg has basically stated that his hands are tied by a higher court ruling.
Watch: Lakota Law chief counsel Danny Sheehan joined me to discuss the developments on Cut to the Chase.
As a reminder to you about what got us here, Boasberg (an Obama appointee) ruled last July to vacate federal permits for Dakota Access. He reasoned then that the Army Corps of Engineers failed to conduct a full EIS, as demanded in a lawsuit filed by the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes. Then, in August, an appeals court affirmed Boasberg’s decision to invalidate the permit, while simultaneously overturning his decision to empty the pipeline. DAPL has been operating unpermitted ever since — a completely unheard-of scenario, and a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Boasberg has since been essentially asking the Corps to make a political decision on whether it’s acceptable for this pipeline to operate without a valid permit on federal land. So far, the Corps (an executive branch agency now under president Biden’s leadership) has shown no desire to do the right thing. Rather than issuing an order to halt operations until proper environmental review is complete, Biden and the Corps are ducking responsibility.
Our legal analysis is that there’s still a potential path forward in the courts. At this stage, the tribes could go directly after the Army Corps under the Administrative Procedures Act. This could lead to a court-order forcing Biden and the Corps to make a decision on whether to continue allowing DAPL’s operation in violation of NEPA.
Lakota Law, its supporters, and a host of like-minded organizations and allies continue to ask Biden to step up and shut DAPL down. We’ll continue to closely examine all the legal and political angles, assessing potential leverage points to push the Corps. Stay tuned.
Wopila tanka — thank you, always, for standing with Standing Rock! Chase Iron Eyes Co-Director & Lead Counsel The Lakota People’s Law Project
In northern Minnesota, over 100 water protectors were arrested Monday in the largest act of civil disobedience to date aimed at halting the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline. If completed, Line 3 would carry more than 750,000 barrels of Canadian tar sands oil a day through Indigenous land and fragile ecosystems, endangering lakes, rivers and wild rice beds. The day of action began when over 1,000 water protectors blockaded a pipeline pump station north of the town of Park Rapids. Many of the activists locked themselves together or to heavy machinery, including bulldozers and diggers.
Kerry Labrador: “I’m a mother of three children. I trooped out here from Boston. I’m a Mi’kmaq woman. And I’m here because they need backup. They need voices. There’s strength in numbers. You know? All these kids out here — I’m going to say it over and over and over again: All the kids out here deserve the future that we, as parents, promised our kids. And if this is how I have to fulfill that promise, then this is how I’m going to fulfill that promise, and not just for my kids, but for every kid sitting out here in this world.”
Protesters are calling on President Biden to shut down the pipeline.