Save the He Sapa (Black Hills)

Lakota Law

For generations, the He Sapa (Black Hills) have been revered by the Oceti Sakowin as sacred grounds. As Indigenous Peoples, we are the original stewards of this land, and we have never relinquished that right. That’s why it’s so important for us to take a stand against harmful extraction in our homelands — like the mining interests currently tearing up and poisoning the He Sapa. 

Will you help us eliminate these threats to our water, treaty territory, and sacred sites? Right now, please join us in asking U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland to suspend all new mining claims in the Black Hills until the Lakota’s treaty rights are properly acknowledged and honored.

Click the pic to read our blog, then please take action to protect the Black Hills!

Over the past weeks, I’ve been working closely with the good people of the Black Hills Clean Water Alliance to understand and help communicate the scope and urgency of the mining problem in the Black Hills. We collaborated to create a blog for you to read, which explains the situation in more detail, and the action you can take to convince Secretary Haaland and the U.S. Department of the Interior to intervene.

At present, 184,000 acres of mining claims litter the Black Hills, covering 15 percent of our sacred grounds, and water system contamination caused by mining represents the greatest threat to the area. And, of course, the mining companies routinely walk away after tearing up the land and contaminating the water, leaving waste behind — forcing taxpayers to cover the clean up costs. 

It’s long past time to return the sacred by honoring treaty rights with Indigenous nations and treating Unci Maka — our grandmother Earth — with utmost respect. So, please read our blog and then take action to protect the He Sapa. You can help make a huge difference for our homelands and our people.

Wopila tanka — thank you for your action and care!
DeCora Hawk
Field Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Lakota People's Law Project

Lakota People’s Law Project
547 South 7th Street #149
Bismarck, ND 58504-5859

The Lakota People’s Law Project is part of the Romero Institute, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) law and policy center. All donations are tax-deductible.

Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL)

Lakota Law

We remain 100 percent focused on our ongoing fight to end the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL), despite the turmoil in the world around us. As you’ll see in a new video we co-produced with Standing Rock, a strong coalition among South Dakota’s tribal nations has formed to get it done. 

Watch on Standing Rock’s Vimeo page: Standing Rock Chair Janet Alkire is joined by leaders from across the Oceti Sakowin to coordinate the current #NoDAPL strategy.

In the video, you’ll hear from Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairwoman Janet Alkire, Oglala Sioux Tribe President Kevin Killer, and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Chairman Harold Frazier. It’s the first in a planned series that will delve more deeply into the complex issues faced by the tribes in their fight to stop DAPL — a pipeline which continues to operate without a permit for its crossing under Lake Oahe just north of the Standing Rock Nation.

Chairwoman Alkire has been actively relaying tribal concerns directly to Michael Connor, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. She recently returned from a meeting with him, in which she discussed the lack of transparency concerning DAPL’s oil spill response plan for the Missouri River and the terrible safety track record of its parent company, Energy Transfer. As detailed in a press release from the tribe, over a recent 8-year period, nine pipelines owned and controlled by Energy Transfer and its affiliated companies experienced nearly 300 spills — including 50 large ones in vulnerable areas like Lake Oahe.

Until this pipeline has a valid Environmental Impact Statement and federal permit, it is operating in violation of the laws designed to safeguard our people, our delicate water systems, and our sacred homelands. We must keep the pressure on U.S. leaders to do the right thing and shut DAPL down. Please watch our video, stay tuned for the next chapters, and be ready when the time comes to take action together.

Wopila tanka — thank you for standing with Standing Rock and the entire Oceti Sakowin!
Chase Iron Eyes
Co-Director and Lead Counsel
Lakota People’s Law Project

Lakota People's Law Project

Lakota People’s Law Project
547 South 7th Street #149
Bismarck, ND 58504-5859

The Lakota People’s Law Project is part of the Romero Institute, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) law and policy center. All donations are tax-deductible.

Fighting Big Oil

Lakota Law

I wish you a happy Earth Day! Here’s an anniversary (unlike some others) that I think we can all celebrate. We all care deeply about Unci Maka, our Grandmother Earth, and when I joined the Lakota Law staff a couple months back, part of the reason was because this organization is never afraid to take on the biggest environmental issues in Indian Country and beyond. Big Oil — which has been knowingly killing this world and lying about it to the public for decades — must be held accountable. Our methodology to make that happen doesn’t stop at resisting pipelines. We mean to end harmful extraction entirely.

I urge you to follow all the work of the Romero Institute — home to both Lakota Law and Let’s Green CA!, a statewide initiative which aims to make California a model of equitable climate action. You’ll see that we have an effective, multipronged approach to winning environmental justice. 

Lakota LawHere’s that all-too-familiar vista of another oil refinery belching toxic filth into the atmosphere. This is why we’re taking polluters to task and working to pass green legislation.

This week, Let’s Green CA! Is celebrating a big victory with the passage of SB 1230 out of the California Senate’s Committee on Environmental Quality. Romero’s staff — in partnership with legendary activist Dolores Huerta and the Dolores Huerta Foundation — has worked very hard to make this clean transportation legislation a reality, from the ground up. Sponsored by State Senator Monique Limón, the bill would rapidly cut greenhouse gas emissions, reduce toxic air pollution, and support green jobs by accelerating a just transition to clean cars in the largest state in our country and the fifth largest economy in the world. I applaud our sister program!

Meanwhile, the Romero Institute’s legal team is drafting a 300-page Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) criminal complaint against the six major oil companies presently doing business in California. It’s designed to stimulate filings by state attorneys general and U.S. Attorneys against corporations, their CEOs, management officials, principal shareholders and financiers, and the American Petroleum Institute, which conspired with the oil leaders to lie to the American public about the known dangers of fossil fuel emissions causing climate change. I encourage you to watch this excellent, new documentary by PBS Frontline to learn more.

As you can see, we’re not taking our responsibilities to Unci Maka lightly. Our Lakota way is not to look at what we can do for ourselves, but to ask how we can be of service to our relatives — including this beautiful world that holds us all in her embrace. So, today, let’s celebrate her. Then, every day from here on, let’s make sure we’re doing better by her.

Wopila tanka — thank you for fighting for environmental justice!
DeCora Hawk
Field Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Water

The key to life and liberty is access to water, Water is Life. The clue to what is happening across the world as a certain class seeks to totally control is what is being done in Standing Rock. There, in 2016, the government was able to try out their new military-grade weapons to control the peaceful protest. There in Standing Rock, we witnessed a rehearsal for complete control and domination. Now, the water is being confiscated.

This is environmental warfare.

Lakota Law

The Dakota Access pipeline’s threat level is at an all time high for the people of the Standing Rock Nation. In a new video we made in partnership with Standing Rock, you’ll see the distressingly low water levels in the Mni Sose, our sacred Missouri River. You’ll also hear Chairwoman Janet Alkire address the oil company’s lack of adequate emergency response planning for the pipeline’s inevitable spill. It’s critical you stay with us and be ready to assist as soon as the Army Corps of Engineers releases DAPL’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

Standing Rock Chairwoman Janet Alkire addresses DAPL’s inadequate emergency plan, the Missouri River’s low water levels, and the elevated threat to her people.

As you heard a few weeks back, an Army representative came to Standing Rock to meet with tribal leaders from across the Oceti Sakowin. He listened to presidents and chairpersons, elders and community members, and he told us he heard our concerns. We hope that’s true. But since that day, it’s been a game of wait and see, with no movement from the Army and no release of the EIS — which, of course, was prepared by a pro-oil firm. It’s almost as if they know we’re not going to be happy unless the pipeline is shut down, and that we have a legion of supporters ready to engage in favor of an honest process.

In my dual capacities as Lakota Law’s co-director and a special consultant to the chairwoman’s office, I’m here to amplify your voices and those of my people. Lakota Law’s communications and technical teams have been hard at work for months helping the Alkire administration upgrade the tribe’s digital infrastructure and outreach capabilities. As part of that, we also collaborated with the tribe’s Game and Fish Department to access remote areas of the reservation and film 30 miles of the river, capturing first-of-its-kind, comprehensive drone footage near DAPL’s crossing. As you’ll see, the footage shows clearly that water levels are dangerously low, and that any spill would pose a special threat right now.

We will continue to do whatever we can to support Standing Rock and all those within the Great Sioux Nation to push back against Big Extraction. And, of course, we’ll keep you updated on developments. Please stay tuned and ready to take action!

Wopila tanka — thank you for always standing with Standing Rock.
Chase Iron Eyes
Co-Director and Lead Counsel
The Lakota People’s Law Project

SB 181

Lakota Law

In 2016 and ‘17, when tens of thousands of people showed up at Standing Rock to protest the Dakota Access pipeline, our rallying cry was “mni wiconi” — water is life. Many of us hail from river tribes, and this saying isn’t just some trite slogan for us; it is our reality as Lakota People. We’re all connected by our ties as human beings, just as water systems are connected above and underground. That’s why, in February — in the same spirit as NoDAPL — representatives from many Great Plains tribes gathered together to bring one voice to the halls of power in South Dakota in support of SB 181. 

This legislation, proposed by Lakota State Senator Red Dawn Foster, would require our Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources to assemble a task force to study the adoption of a comprehensive and sustainable watershed ecosystems management approach. Please watch our new video, a co-production by Lakota Law and Uniting Resilience, the nonprofit I run with my partner, Felipa De Leon. It depicts highlights from our presentations and the real impression we made on the senators.

Watch: Lakota Law’s Chase Iron Eyes joined a host of Lakota leaders in addressing the SD State Senate about the importance of SB 181. 

The day was a victory, though the legislation didn’t pass this go-round. The senators listened closely and showed real appreciation for our dedication to achieving environmental justice through legislative channels. Tamar Stands And Looks Back made a presentation in Lakota; Chief John Spotted Tail impressed with his words and ceremonial headdress; Lakota Law’s Madonna Thunder Hawk and Chase Iron Eyes made key points that shook the room; and we also heard from the new Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairwoman, Janet Alkire, and many others. In the end, senators from both parties spoke in favor of Red Dawn’s legislation and encouraged us to come back with the bill next session.

That’s exactly what we’ll do. We’re ready to show the power of tribal unity until the bill passes. This legislation is important, because the groundwater and aquifers that connect Lakota Country must be protected. As a study I did in cooperation with Lakota Law shows, the long history of uranium mining throughout South Dakota means our people often rely on toxic water. That’s not acceptable, and we will change it. I invite you to stay connected with us. Only by working and showing up together can we make the right impressions, overcome historical barriers, and improve the health and safety of our communities.

Wopila tanka — thank you for helping us protect our homelands and water!
Monique “Muffie” Mousseau
Via the Lakota People’s Law Project

Lakota People's Law Project

Lakota People’s Law Project
547 South 7th Street #149
Bismarck, ND 58504-5859

The Lakota People’s Law Project is part of the Romero Institute, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) law and policy center. All donations are tax-deductible.

DAPL Shut it Down

Carina Dominguez
Indian Country Today

NDN Collective released a damning climate justice report Tuesday on the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, the same day as World Water Day.

In a detailed analysis, the Climate Justice Campaign calls on the Biden administration to drain and shut down the pipeline, which the roughly 200-page report argues would protect the nation’s longest river, the Missouri River, and its basin. The report is drawn from court documents, treaties, government documents, news stories, congressional hearings and more.

The purpose of the “Faulty Infrastructure and the Impacts of the North Dakota Access Pipeline” report is to inform and engage industry decision makers, policy makers and the public on the facts and nuances around three major areas:

  1. Tribal treaty rights;
  2. Engineering and construction flaws of DAPL that threaten tribal sovereignty; and
  3. Six continuous years of failed U.S. Army Corps of Engineers processes.

“The vision of this report is to hold accountable these agencies to their own regulations, to their own laws, to their own climate agendas, but also to support our communities in understanding the regulatory processes and the laws so that we can push against them, or hold these agency accountable to their own laws,” said NDN Collective’s Climate Justice Campaign Director Jade Begay, Diné. Begay also sits on the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council.

Begay noted how the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe opted out as a cooperating agency in the environmental review process. This happened after the tribe was repeatedly denied access to information, which the report details.

The tribal nation didn’t immediately respond to Indian Country Today’s attempts for a comment.

Related stories:
Judge refuses to delay release of DAPL documents
Enbridge Line 3 divides Indigenous lands, people
A spiritual perspective on climate changeIndigenous youth rally against pipelines in DC

NDN Collective Climate Justice Organizer Kailea Frederick, Tahltan and Kaska, said draining and shutting down the pipeline would send a clear message to its operator, Energy Transfer, and other companies like it: It’s not okay to violate treaties or environmental protection laws. People, water and the land must be respected, Frederick said.

“The current routing of the Dakota Access Pipeline is a blatant suppression of treaty rights and free, prior and informed consent,” Frederick said.

A recent U.N. report states climate change is already “causing widespread disruption in nature and affecting the lives of billions of people around the world” and calls for urgent action to adapt to climate change and to make deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

(Related: UN report: Climate change is already major disruption)

“It is actually a conversation on life and death,” Frederick said. “The other voices in the room that continue to try to dominate the conversation are trying to give an illusion that we have more options and more time than we do. And the reality of climate change is that we actually have very few options and we have very limited time to get it right.”

There’s been years of community resistance against the Dakota Access pipeline and recently the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe claimed a legal victory in the case.

Indigenous water protectors and allies blocked the pipeline for months starting in 2016 and were met with violence.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe sued Energy Transfer over National Environmental Policy Act violations. A district court judge ruled a new Environmental Impact Statement would be required by the company. The Supreme Court denied Energy Transfer’s bid to thwart environmental oversight.

The new environmental impact statement is due in September and a public comment period will open up after that.

NDN Collective will issue a call to action at that time and help the public navigate the public comment requirements because comments must meet strict guidelines that specifically deal with the underwater pipeline crossing on Lake Oahe.

But the possibility of shutting down the pipeline entirely is left up to the executive branch and the Biden administration has so far refused to do so.

Begay questions if the policies and proposals in the Build Back Better Plan and the Green New Deal will be enough to help with a needed paradigm shift.

“The paradigm shift of not consuming as much, staying home more, being more localized, valuing getting around and living our lives without fossil fuels – and plastics,” Begay said.

Frederick said “we don’t have a choice at this moment in time other than to think about how we’re going to live our lives differently and how we’re going to descale.”

NDN Collective releases Dakota Access Pipeline report on World Water Day. The organization worked on the report for over a year. It offers the most thorough, and critical, analysis of the DAPL project yet. (Courtesy of NDN Collective)

NDN Collective releases Dakota Access Pipeline report on World Water Day. The organization worked on the report for over a year. It offers the most thorough, and critical, analysis of the DAPL project yet. (Courtesy of NDN Collective)

“Indigenous peoples need to see the government acting in good faith and so one action towards that is taking action around DAPL and reducing the flow and eventually abandoning the pipeline. That’s our demand,” Begay said.

The NDN Collective report took more than a year to develop in “consultation with an array of skilled and respected industry Indigenous and non-Indigenous specialists who also possess intimate knowledge of the DAPL.”

“It feels like a very big responsibility to get it right, on many different levels,” Frederick said.

The environmental impact statement requires the public’s participation to determine its contents but the report found that didn’t happen with the DAPL project.

“Previously, through the EIS process, there was a time that they would sit down with tribes and strategize together and this process was called scoping. And with the DAPL process, this did not happen,” Frederick said.

The report is critical of how the Army Corps of Engineers has carried out “flawed” processes.

“The way that the entirety of the DAPL process has gone even just now that this pipeline is operating illegally without the right permitting, it really sets the precedent for the other future types of projects,” Frederick said. “If this specific issue around DAPL is not corrected and if this pipeline is not drained and shut down, that it lets other agencies know or companies know that it’s okay to operate in this way with our people on our lands. And the truth is that it’s not okay. And that it is a true violation of treaties.”

The report states the Army Corps lacks “transparency by continuing to withhold critical technical information requested repeatedly by the Tribes while hiding under the guise of “national security”.

One of the major concerns listed in the report is an “independent third-party.” A contractor that is meant to be neutral in the environmental review process has blatant financial ties to the oil and gas industry through membership in the American Petroleum Institute, according to the report.

The report calls for transparency and diligent assessments on the impact of the DAPL project.

Five key elements are:

1. Challenge the legitimacy of the DAPL on Indian land – Treaty Rights
2. Approval of DAPL continues as modern-day dispossession of Indigenous people
3. Army Corps and the Trump era NEPA
4. Major DAPL routing, engineering, spill risk, and safety issues
5. Failure to adequately address environmental justice

“We feel really grateful that our campaign has been able to steward this report coming out into the world,” Frederick said.

She’s looking forward to seeing how tribes and other organizations utilize the material compiled in the report.

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End DAPL

Lakota Law

When you heard from me last week, Standing Rock was about to host tribal representatives and the Assistant Secretary of the Army Civil Works (Michael Connor) for a meeting about the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL). Today, I’m happy to report that things went about as well as could be expected. I attended the meeting in my capacity as an advisor to Standing Rock Chairwoman Janet Alkire, and I can report that Connor paid close attention as leaders from nine nations of the Oceti Sakowin expressed a unity of purpose in our fight to end DAPL once and for all.

Yankton Sioux Tribal Councilman Kip Spotted Eagle addresses the Army, flanked (left to right) by Spirit Lake Chairman Doug Yankton, Cheyenne River Chairman Harold Frazier, and Standing Rock Chairwoman Janet Alkire.

As you know, this toxic pipeline, which crosses the Mni Sose — the Missouri River — on Standing Rock’s doorstep, is an existential threat to our homelands and our water. I almost went to prison for peacefully protesting against it in 2017. As Connor sits atop the Army Corps of Engineers — tasked by the courts with creating DAPL’s Environmental Impact Statement — this meeting was critical. Connor listened for many hours, eventually postponing a subsequent meeting with North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum so all our people could speak.

The fact that Chairwoman Alkire was joined by representatives from the Oglala, Cheyenne River, Flandreau, Rosebud, Crow Creek, Yankton, Lower Brule, and Spirit Lake Sioux Nations was an important show of tribal solidarity. And while getting federal officials to take action on our behalf will be an uphill climb at a time when gas prices are rising on account of the Ukraine invasion, this was an important step. 

Left: Standing Rock Chairwoman Janet Alkire with Michael Connor. Center: The color guard presents the flags. Right: Cheyenne River Chairman Harold Frazier, Connor, and Spirit Lake Chairman Doug Yankton.

Renewable energy is now cheaper than fossil fuel throughout the nation, so regardless of what’s happening to oil markets, there is no excuse for failing to go green immediately. And tribal communities should never be forced to bear the risk of noxious infrastructure.

This resistance united us in 2016, and it’s still uniting us today. Now we are being heard by the U.S. Army instead of being shot with water cannons and rubber bullets by TigerSwan, a contracted private army. The fight goes on in a new way — but we still have a long way to go before we can say the Black Snake is defeated. So please stay with us. We’re in this together, and your spirit is always valued in this struggle.

Wopila tanka — thank you for your solidarity!
Chase Iron Eyes
Co-Director and Lead Counsel
The Lakota People’s Law Project

#NODAPL

Lakota Law

I hope you’re safe and remaining hopeful despite the horrific world events taking place. The Russian invasion of Ukraine highlights once again how important it is for people everywhere to remain sovereign and free of tyranny. My heart goes out to all who are now suffering through another needless, bloody war.

Perhaps it will lend you some comfort to know that there is good news this week from Standing Rock. This Wednesday, tribal leaders from across the Great Sioux Nation will have an opportunity to sit down with the U.S. Army Civil Works and relay our concerns about the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL). After years of our #NoDAPL resistance falling on deaf ears — as highlighted by Standing Rock Chairwoman Janet Alkire in our new video, co-produced with the tribe — the Army finally reached out to Standing Rock. This is a potential turning point, though we are keeping our expectations modest. 

Watch: In our new video, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairwoman Janet Alkire discusses the importance of tribal input and gaining our consent for projects like DAPL.

We originally expected the Army Corps of Engineers to release its DAPL Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) earlier this month. But that’s now on hold, pending our coming conversation about this dangerous pipeline. This opportunity to have the appropriate government officials really listen to our concerns is long overdue.

Of course, given the long history of broken promises by the U.S. government to Native People, I take everything with a grain of salt and won’t celebrate prematurely. We must continue to stand ready to protest the EIS, should it eventually be released in any form that doesn’t fully address our concerns. 

Right now, I’m happy to say we have some additional leverage. The meeting with Civil Works will happen against the backdrop of a huge win for Standing Rock in the Supreme Court this past week. Justices shut down DAPL’s attempt to make an end-run around the environmental oversight process. 

Solidarity remains paramount if we are to achieve our goal of ending DAPL once and for all. As people from many nations gathered for our original NoDAPL stand in 2016 and ‘17, Wednesday’s meeting will bring together leaders from throughout the Oceti Sakowin — our Great Sioux Nation. We will, of course, report on the results of that conversation to you. So, please continue to stay with us. We must remain vigilant, united, and ready to act.

Wopila tanka — my deep gratitude to you for your friendship!
Chase Iron Eyes
Co-Director and Lead Counsel
The Lakota People’s Law Project
 

Lakota People's Law Project

Lakota People’s Law Project
547 South 7th Street #149
Bismarck, ND 58504-5859

The Lakota People’s Law Project is part of the Romero Institute, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) law and policy center. All donations are tax-deductible.

“OYATE”

Lakota Law

My greetings to you from the Standing Rock Nation. Today, I invite you to experience something wonderful: Next week, Big Sky Documentary Film Festival is hosting the online world premiere of “OYATE” — a brand new feature documentary film produced by Films with a Purpose and Irrelevant Media, in association with the Lakota People’s Law Project. Big Sky has graciously also made the movie available for viewing online at the same time, and you can purchase your ticket to watch today.

Look, it’s me and Phyllis Young in “OYATE!” Please click here to watch the trailer for this heartfelt and skillfully done documentary, and purchase your tickets for the premiere on the same page.

We wanted to make sure you have the opportunity to watch this special premiere with us! Please note that the film will be available through Big Sky for a limited time. I urge you to purchase your ticket right now, then mark your calendar to remind yourself the streaming window opens on Feb. 25 at 9 a.m. PST. After that, you’ll have about three days to start watching and another 24 hours to finish.
 
Now that you’ve got all those important details, let me tell you a little more about our involvement and what you’ll see. In the wake of the protests at Standing Rock in 2016 and ‘17, our Lakota Law team worked closely with producers Brandon Jackson, Emil Benjamin, Sandra Evers-Manly, and Jennifer Martel of the Cheyenne River and Standing Rock Sioux tribes, to tell this powerful story of resistance. You’ll spend time with Phyllis Young, me and my daughter Tokata, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland of the Laguna Pueblo People, and many more powerful Native voices.

Lakota LawHere’s a promotional still of Secretary Haaland and other sisters in the fight for Indigenous justice. This film is really beautifully shot.

As you know, our #NoDAPL struggle at Standing Rock became an inflection point for human rights and environmental justice, a rallying cry for Indigenous people everywhere to take a stand against centuries of land theft, imposed poverty, and cultural erasure. “OYATE” successfully communicates our thoughts, as Indigenous activists, organizers, and politicians, on that complicated history.

Lakota Law

Lakota Law aided the filmmakers by providing exclusive interviews, archival footage, and perspective. The directors did a fantastic job of using a blend of storytelling tools to weave all elements harmoniously and to fully immerse you in our worldviews. The end result is a thing of beauty, ambitious in scope and, at the same time, personal and intimate. I think you’ll very much enjoy watching, and I hope you’ll find it illuminating. You may gain new understanding of our struggles for sovereignty and justice — and you’ll even meet some rez dogs! So, please watch the trailer, and then join us for this exciting premiere. I can’t wait to hear your feedback.

Wopila tanka — thank you, and happy watching.
Chase Iron Eyes
Co-Director & Lead Counsel
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Climate Accountability

https://indiancountrytoday.com/news/the-economics-of-climate-accountability

Mark Trahant
Indian Country Today

Last weekend some 400 Karankawa Kadla and their supporters organized protests across Texas to call attention to the expansion plans for an Enbridge oil terminal. It’s already the largest crude export terminal in North America potentially transporting as much as 1.5 million barrels of oil per day.

“The Enbridge terminal expansion is planned to be constructed in the ancestral settlement and land of the Karankawa Kadla, where thousands of sacred Karankawa artifacts remain and ceremony and prayer have continued for the past 2,000 years,” said a news release from the Indigenous Environmental Network. “If the expansion of the Enbridge terminal on Karankawa land continues, the Karankawa Kadla will lose direct access to their land and ancestral artifacts in addition to the pollution of sacred natural waters.”

The release also included a simple line asking for “accountability from Enbridge and Bank of America, one of the major funders of the expansion, for developing on Indigeneous land without consent and the environmental destruction of the Gulf Coast.”

That word “accountability” shifts the protest to another kind of action, one based on ESG standards; a metric that includes Environment, Social and Governance as well as the planning for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Both Bank of America and Enbridge say they have ESG plans and are on track to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Further reading:
What the heck is Indigenous economics?
Are carbon markets the new gaming for tribes?
Climate change, Indigenous community and ESG

At a conference last year, Al Monaco, Enbridge’s president and chief executive officer, called ESG and sustainability the key to an energy transition. “Essentially, this is society’s dual challenge,” he said. “One the one hand, it’s clear that population growth, urbanization and a growing middle class will drive energy demand higher. On the other hand . . . energy supplies need to be developed sustainably, and aligned with climate goals.”

This dual challenge, he said, will lead to “responsible” growth over the next three decades including achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, reducing emissions from operations by 35 percent in eight years and increasing the diversity of its workforce in the next couple of years. That’s a lot of ambition. Enbridge says that existing infrastructure, such as pipelines, is a part of that plan.

So why expand an oil terminal now? How does it move the company forward on its promises of sustainability? And what about Bank of America?

The big picture

Let’s zoom out and look at the big picture.

A new report by the global management and accounting company, McKinsey, outlines the economic challenges of getting to a net-zero economy.

“The net-zero equation remains unsolved: greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated and are not counterbalanced by removals, nor is the world prepared to complete the net-zero transition,” the report warns. “Indeed, even if all net-zero commitments and national climate pledges were fulfilled, research suggests that warming would not be held to 1.5°C above pre industrial levels, increasing the odds of initiating the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, including the risk of biotic feedback loops.”

McKinsey said getting to net zero requires significant changes. Significant is an understatement because the numbers are huge. McKinsey estimates that an investment need of $9.2 trillion per year on average, an annual increase of as much as $3.5 trillion from today. To put this increase in comparative terms, the $3.5 trillion is approximately equivalent, in 2020, to half of global corporate profits, one-quarter of total tax revenue, and 7 percent of household spending. An additional $1 trillion of today’s annual spend would, moreover, need to be reallocated from high-emissions to low-emissions assets.”

Hence the urgency of reducing existing energy investments that do not meet climate change goals.

And there is a difference of opinion here. Some companies, even those claiming an ESG or net-zero plan, say that reductions are necessary but will come down the road.

“Some pathways to net-zero emissions assume that the decline in emissions begins immediately and progresses gradually to 2050, with appropriate measures in place to manage disruptions and limit costs. Others assume that reduction of emissions begins later and progresses more quickly to achieve the same amount of cumulative emissions,” McKinsey reports. “The latter could involve significant and abrupt changes in policy, high carbon prices, and sudden changes to investment practices—along with greater socioeconomic effects and a larger-scale response. Making job transitions would be more challenging, and there could be greater risk of stranded assets.”

The energy companies that are betting on “later” for dramatic emission reductions could be putting at risk significant assets, stranded assets. Enbridge, for example, spent $3 billion on its acquisition of the Moda Midstream Terminal, nearly $10 billion on the line 3 project, and millions more on smaller projects, including a seaport near Houston.

169 indigenous economics

What about Bank of America?

A report last year by the Rainforest Action Network said that “until the banks prove otherwise, the ‘net’ in ‘net zero’ leaves room for emissions targets that fall short of what the science demands, based on copious offsetting or absurd assumptions about future carbon-capture schemes, as well as the rights violations and fraud that often come hand in hand with offsetting and carbon markets.”

That reported Bank of America’s at number four for the “dirty dozen” banks that finance fossil fuel development.

“These ‘Dirty Dozen’ banks have very different policies regarding restriction and phase-out of coal, oil, and gas, but none are sufficient. Among the world’s largest banks, strong coal policies are rare, and even the strongest oil and gas policies are sorely lacking,” the Rainforest Action Network said.

Bank of America says it’s goal is “to rebalance our portfolios away from more carbon emission intensive fossil fuel extraction, power generation, transportation and other consumption … toward low-carbon business models.”

The bank says it’s committed to “industry-leading disclosures” on its environmental progress, including a metric called “emission intensity.” That metric is different from overall carbon emission reduction because it’s based on a connection with the larger economy. So if the economy grows, so can total emissions.

Of course all of this economic and investment framework misses another leverage point, consent from Indigenous communities.

The company outlines its Indigenous People’s Policy that includes a commitment “to pursuing sustainable relationships with Indigenous Nations and groups in proximity to where Enbridge conducts business.”

Yet there has been no communication with Indigenous groups in Texas.

The Indigenous Peoples of the Coastal Bend, the Karankawa Kadla Tribe of the Texas Gulf Coast, and Ingleside on the Bay Coastal Watch Association filed a lawsuit in August against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for its approval of permits for the Texas project.

“Members of the Indigenous Peoples and of the Karankawa Kadla tribe travel regularly to Ingleside on the Bay in San Patricio County, Texas to enjoy the natural beauty of the land and the ocean, to observe wildlife in the area, and to find spiritual joy and fulfillment through their connections to the land, water, wildlife, and their ancestors who lived in the area,” according to the lawsuit. “This undeveloped space between the Moda facility and Ingleside on the Bay is the only remaining undeveloped area in this part of the Bay. This undeveloped space represents the last remaining vestige of the landscape and ecosystems that once occupied the area.”

The dredging of the bay “will destroy the McGloin’s Bluff site and the surrounding area. The increase in ship traffic and the associated increase in noise, industrial activity, and pollution will destroy their ability to pray and find spiritual joy and fulfillment in observing their ancestral lands and waters.”

This leads to even more questions about ESG, and especially its connection to Indigenous communities. Enbridge and other companies’ Indigenous Peoples Policies support the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. Yet that protocol explicitly calls for Free, Prior and Informed Consent on projects.

This is why many critics dismiss ESG as “greenwashing,” giving companies cover to continue business as usual. On the other hand, companies see the growing value of being favored as ESG-compliant. Last year more than $120 billion flowed from investors into sustainable projects (more than double from 2020) and a regulatory structure is being added. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is nearing completion of guidelines for companies to disclose climate-related risks.

There are three climate tests ahead: Transparent. Sustainable. And accountable.

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Mark Trahant, Shoshone-Bannock, is editor-at-large for Indian Country Today. On Twitter: @TrahantReports Trahant is based in Phoenix. The Indigenous Economics Project is funded with a major grant from the Bay and Paul Foundations.

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