The hearing Wednesday in Linton over the request to double the capacity of the Dakota Access Pipeline showed the relationship with Native Americans has improved, but that trust issues still exist.
Members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe were invited to participate in the Public Service Commission hearing. It’s important that the tribe has a seat at the table, so to speak, and an opportunity to explain their concerns.
The Tribune editorial board also believes it’s important that the administrative law judge running the hearing denied Energy Transfer’s attempt to have testimony from the tribe’s witnesses filed in advance of the hearing removed from the record.
Standing Rock members wanted to be heard and had the right to be heard. It’s unfortunate the company tried to erase testimony. That would have damaged the faith of many in the process.
Tribal members fear a pipeline spill at its Missouri River crossing that’s north of the reservation would harm the tribe’s water supply. The pipeline prompted protests when it was built, along with legal action that continues today.
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The PSC promised after the protests to keep tribes informed about projects that impact them. The tribe chartered a bus to take members to the hearing, and dozens attended. How much influence they will have on the PSC’s decision remains to be seen.
Much of Wednesday’s hearing was technical in nature, focusing on safety steps being taken with the pipeline, the odds of a leak and how it would be handled. Energy Transfer had a firm conduct a surge analysis on the pipeline expansion. The analysis has been filed with regulators in Illinois but not released to the public.
The Tribune believes the company should provide the report to the PSC and release it to the public. More transparency should help the public and the PSC decide on the merits of the project.
The Tribune expects the odds favor the PSC approving the project. However, the more information that’s available will help commissioners decide if any conditions need to be attached to approval.
No matter what the PSC decides, some parties will be unhappy, and there’s potential for lawsuits. There’s a need for more pipeline capacity in the state. Despite the leaks that have occurred, pipelines are a more efficient and safer way to move oil compared to rail cars and trucks.
The PSC needs to create faith in the process so everyone can feel they were heard and the hearing was fair. One aspect of the hearing that was commented on was the number of law enforcement members in attendance. The protests in 2016-17 haven’t been forgotten, so taking precautions at the hearing is understandable. However, the number of law enforcement officers present needs to be reasonable.
It’s essential we rebuild trust among everyone in the state. With trust, those on the losing side can at least leave believing they had a fair hearing.