Publisher’s Note: This is the 2nd installment in our ongoing series exploring how the mainstream corporate commercial US media misrepresented 10,000 #NoDAPL peaceful water protectors. Read #NoDAPL #1 here.
Claim #1: The Standing Rock Tribe had numerous opportunities to have a voice in the DAPL permitting process but chose to ignore it until the last minute, and the permit process allowed for adequate assessment of environmental and cultural impacts.
This claim seemed to center around an editorial, “What the Dakota Pipeline Protesters Aren’t Telling You,” written by Shawn McCoy of InsideSources.com. It is important to note that editorials are mainly opinion-based. McCoy has also written for the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) and Americans for Job Security (AJS), as well been a political pundit for the 2012 Mitt Romney campaign (LaCapria). According to factcheck.org, the TPA is funded in part by AJS, an organization which appears to be focused on business advocacy, but also has a reputation as an anti-labor right-wing group known for heavyweight corporate influence on elections. AJS has been investigated by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) for refusing to reveal its funding sources (“Americans for Job Security”). With Republican pressure, the FEC charges were dropped. On their website, the Taxpayers Protection Association claims to be “nonprofit and nonpartisan,” and seems innocuous enough with a focus to keep watch on government spending, fraud, and waste. However, according to the Energy and Policy Institute, a watchdog organization that works to counter misinformation about alternative energy by fossil fuel advocates, the TPA is merely “an advocacy front that is part of the Koch [brothers] political network” (“Taxpayers Protection Alliance”). Another watchdog group, Sourcewatch, connects both organizations to the Koch brothers, which makes me wonder if McCoy, who has done writing for both organizations, whose article was one of the more significant attempts to invalidate the protesters, might have some bias towards the completion of the pipeline.
In the supposed court documents cited by McCoy, there were allegedly “559 meetings with [Energy Transfer Partners and] community leaders, local officials and organizations to listen to concerns and fine-tune the [DAPL] route.” Meanwhile, Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, claims that the pipeline was “fast-tracked.” Snopes writer Kim LaCapria looked back to a Des Moines Register article from July 2014 about the initial query for the pipeline project and she deduces that “631 days elapsed between the initial query and 1 April 2016, when DAPL protests began.” LaCapria goes on to say, “by that (admittedly loose) metric, ETP would have participated in community meetings nearly once a day, including on weekends.” In his editorial, McCoy also cited 389 meetings and a year and a half of attempted communication by the Army Corps of Engineers with with the Standing Rock Tribe and various other native tribes. However, the August 4, 2016 lawsuit filed by the Standing Rock Tribe states that the Army Corps sent the tribe a generic form letter and then did not respond to numerous attempts by the tribe to contact them (Standing Rock Sioux Tribe v. Army Corps of Engineers). To my calculations, if the span between the query and the construction was less than two-years’ time, then the Army Corps would have had to have been conducting meetings every two days during that time, which is highly unlikely.
McCoy’s claim about Army Corps and ETP meetings runs opposite to the story of the Standing Rock Tribe, and the number of permit process days that passed versus meetings that supposedly occurred sounds incongruous, an impossible timeline given busy schedules and organizational logistics.
LaCapria notes that she was unable to substantiate the 389 Army Corps meetings, except on standingrockfactchecker.org which is a site dedicated to seeing the pipeline construction move forward. This website is put out by the Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now. The Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now (MAIN) kept coming up in my research of negative claims about the Standing Rock demonstration. According to MAIN’s website, they are “a partnership of entities from the agriculture, business, and labor sectors aimed at supporting the economic development and energy security benefits associated with infrastructure projects in the Midwest” (“Who We Are”). They list several petroleum groups as affiliates on their “about” page, including the North Dakota Petroleum Council and the North Dakota Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties. A blog by Steve Horn on DESMOG: Clearing the PR Pollution that Clouds Climate Science, alleges that MAIN “may have created fake Twitter profiles, known by some as ‘sock puppets,’ to convey a pro-pipeline message over social media. And MAIN may be employing the PR services of the firm DCI Group, which has connections to the Republican Party, in order to do so.” Horn notes that, “On September 13, people began to suspect these accounts were fake, calling them out on Twitter, and by September 14, most of the accounts no longer existed.” Regardless of whether the claim on DESMOG about the fake Twitter accounts is true, it is obvious with MAIN’s interest in “energy security benefits” and its petroleum connections that the agenda of MAIN is to see that projects like DAPL go forward, and their claim on standingrockfactchecker.org of the Army Corps holding 389 meetings is quite possibly intentional PR to discredit the Standing Rock Tribe’s concerns.
With regards to there having been an adequate assessment of environmental impacts of DAPL, in an interview on Democracy Now between Amy Goodman and Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, Graves shares that over 100 scientists signed a document stating that the environmental impact and cultural assessments of the pipeline construction were inadequate (Goodman). In the American Association for Advancement of Science’s journal Science, 220 scientists, who work within an interdisciplinary team, warn that the impacts of the pipeline have not been explored adequately and that oil leaks could irreversibly contaminate drinking water and destroy a number of key aquatic endangered species in the waterways it traverses (“More than 220 Scientists”). Meanwhile, a blog called “Scientific Gems,” with no author listed, asserts that the data these scientists looked at is old and also that the numbers of endangered species in the waterways is minimal. It was not clear in the blog which data was “old” and does a minimal number of endangered species create permission to disregard their protection? With a two-year span from query to implementation, the trajectory of checks and balances for the inception of the DAPL project is, at best, unclear.
On the subject of the pipeline’s permitting process, Goodman and Graves also discuss the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), which works to elect Republicans to state attorney general positions, positions responsible for legal counsel for state activities. According to The New York Times, “RAGA takes in millions of dollars a year from major corporations (“RAGA as a Money Machine”). Graves says, “what we have disclosed through our open records requests and through other investigations is the incredible role of oil companies, including Exxon, but other companies, in basically getting influence with these attorneys general. The attorney general of North Dakota has been the AG for more than 15 years.” Graves goes on to say that RAGA has worked against the Clean Power Plan. The attorney general of North Dakota is a member of RAGA. (Goodman).
The intricacies of the DAPL regulation process are, of course, complex. But the proportionately small amount of information shared here casts reasonable doubt about claim #1. Carrying out the permitting process with integrity would be difficult when the government organizations involved in the decision making about the permit, such as RAGA, either have ties to or pressure from fossil fuels industry organizations. Claims in editorials by writers who also have these ties should be viewed as suspect. According to dapiplinefacts.com, put out by the Energy Transfer Partners, DAPL is an “underground crude oil pipeline designed to transport 470,000 barrels of crude oil per day (with a growth potential up to 570,000 barrels per day)” (“What is the Dakota Access”). This translates to a lot of money to be made.
Look for NoDAPL, Part 3 next week.
Kylee Mabel Cushman is a writer, editor, adjunct professor and citizen activist based in central Vermont.