The Public Service Commission should hold a public hearing on the proposed expansion of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Tribune editorial board believes the process should be transparent.
When the pipeline was constructed, it was the focus of protests in 2016 and 2017 after the Standing Rock Sioux and environmental groups objected. While the pipeline doesn’t run on tribal lands, there were fears an accident could contaminate the Missouri River, which serves as the reservation’s water supply.
The protests drew tribes from across the U.S. and from other countries. Environmental groups also supported Standing Rock. The protests resulted in confrontations with law enforcement and massive arrests. The fallout from the protests still lingers.
One area of contention during the construction of the pipeline was whether Standing Rock was given proper notice of public meetings and whether the tribe was required to be notified. The state argues they were notified and the tribe disputes it.
Energy Transfer, operator of the pipeline, wants to nearly double the amount of oil that can flow through the pipeline that stretches from the Bakken to Illinois. The company proposes to build additional pumping stations in North Dakota, South Dakota and Illinois so it can move up to 1.1 million barrels per day.
The North Dakota station would be on 21 acres west of Linton. Part of the land lies outside the previously permitted pipeline corridor, prompting the need for PSC approval. The commission will consider requests for a public hearing, and the public has until Aug. 9 to submit them.
Standing Rock, the Sierra Club and the Lakota People’s Law Project have said they will seek a public hearing. The PSC should grant the hearing.
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The tribe wants the pipeline shut down, according to Jan Hasselman, an attorney with Earthjustice who represents the tribe. While it’s hard to conceive of that happening, Hasselman also said, “Someone needs to be accountable to make sure that’s safe and legal.” That would seem to be a purpose of the hearing — to guarantee the project meets legal requirements.
Wayde Schafer, of the Sierra Club, argues the PSC should examine the need for the expansion. He said the nation should be moving toward renewable and alternative fuels. However, it’s not a function of the PSC to set environmental policy. The commission determines whether companies are complying with state laws.
Opponents of the pipeline deserve the opportunity to present their arguments. They no doubt will face an uphill battle because Energy Transfer has received state approval in the past. Hasselman also thinks the expansion will need new approval by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers because the original permit was based on analysis of the pipeline’s present capacity. The Corps declined comment. It’s hard to believe the Corps would change its position on the pipeline.
The requests for a hearing and another Corps review will be seen by many as stalling tactics. Even if they are, there should be a hearing. Energy Transfer hired a consultant to do an environmental survey of the site and said it’s taking steps to avoid several potential impacts discovered by the survey. It’s possible the PSC could find some changes they want made.
The hearing’s also important for the general public. After witnessing the pipeline protests and hearing the concerns of opponents, the public should have some assurance the pipeline expansion is safe.
Transparency throughout the process is essential. In the end, some will be disappointed by the outcome, but there shouldn’t be any doubt the steps taken to reach the outcome were fair to all.