North Dakota is right to engage the federal government in talks over a settlement for policing costs during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. The state shouldn’t allow federal officials to lowball and instead demand fair payment.
The state estimates it cost more than $38 million to deal with the protests in 2016 and 2017. It blames the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for allowing the protests to get out of hand by letting protesters camp on federal land without permits. At one time, more than 10,000 protesters were estimated in the area.
The Department of Justice awarded $10 million to help reimburse North Dakota for protest costs in August 2017. It seems fair to deduct that portion from what the federal government owes North Dakota.
Pipeline developer Energy Transfer donated $15 million to North Dakota to help pay for the protest response. That private donation should not negate the federal government's responsibility.
The Morton County Sheriff’s Office was responsible for policing the area but received help from the North Dakota National Guard, and from law enforcement agencies across North Dakota and other states.
Law enforcement established a large camp near the protest site where meals and other amenities were provided. North Dakota was left to foot the bill for the law enforcement efforts and cleaning up the protest site.
North Dakota has sued the federal government to recover the costs, and U.S. District Judge Daniel Traynor denied a federal motion to dismiss the suit. That prompted the Department of Army to ask the Department of Justice to enter negotiations with the state.
North Dakota carried a heavy burden during the protests. In many ways it was a public relations disaster for the state as the protests became a worldwide event. The tactics of law enforcement and the pipeline company drew a lot of criticism.
The Corps is the root of many of the problems surrounding the pipeline, and it’s time it paid the price for its bungling.
As part of a settlement it would be good to hire an independent third party to review the pipeline protests. It should examine the different protest groups, law enforcement and its use of force and the pipeline company’s behavior.
The protests occurring across the nation would make such a study valuable. How did a little protest camp on the prairie morph into such a mammoth event? The bigger question is could it have been avoided?
The controversy surrounding the pipeline won’t end with a settlement since a federal judge has ordered an extensive environmental review of the project. A settlement would provide some relief for the state, which has seen the coronavirus pandemic and plummeting oil production take a bite out of its economy.
Plus, it’s right thing for the Department of Justice to do. The federal government bears a lot of responsibility and should acknowledge it through a settlement.
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