BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Hundreds of state-level criminal cases stemming from the prolonged protest in North Dakota against the Dakota Access oil pipeline are mostly wrapped up, and an organization of volunteer attorneys that formed to aid protesters is shifting its focus to other potential battles, including the Keystone XL pipeline and President Donald Trump's southern border wall.
“Whenever the next struggle heats up and takes off, then we will swell our ranks to meet the demand,'' said Frances Madeson, spokeswoman for the Water Protector Legal Collective . “Water protector'' is what many pipeline opponents called themselves because they fear a spill could contaminate water supplies.
Thousands of Native Americans and others who feared environmental harm from the $3.8 billion pipeline built by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners came to southern North Dakota in 2016 and 2017 to protest, resulting in hundreds of arrests over a six-month span and nearly 850 criminal cases in state court. The pipeline that ETP maintains is safe has been moving North Dakota oil to Illinois since June 2017.
The nonprofit legal team, which formed in a tent at a protest camp, grew to 31 attorneys from around the country who donated tens of thousands of hours over the past 2 1/2 years to help defendants in those cases, most of which have been dismissed or resolved through plea agreements.
The last of about 70 scheduled trials ended Tuesday, with Katrina Silk of Mitchell, South Dakota, convicted of misdemeanor obstruction of a government function but acquitted of four other misdemeanors, including rioting. She was given two months of unsupervised probation and ordered to pay $325 in court fees.
The Water Protector Legal Collective, which raised and spent about $2 million on Dakota Access-related work, considers the job finished.
“We set a tone with the state's attorney's office that they were going to have a serious fight on their hands, and we have never let up that pressure,'' said board President Daniel T'seleie.
The collective, funded entirely through grants and donations, maintains an office in Bismarck with five full-time staff members. It is governed by a volunteer board of directors that currently has seven members.
The organization is talking with tribes who are preparing to protest in South Dakota against the $8 billion Keystone XL pipeline , which TransCanada Corp. is planning to build to move Canadian crude to the U.S. Gulf Coast. The legal group also is planning to meet with a tribe in Texas that opposes a U.S.-Mexico border wall proposed by Trump.
“The mass arrests at Standing Rock may not have been the largest in the U.S. history of repression, but they are among the most significant, both in the lives of the individual water protectors like myself, but also for the future of indigenous-centered environmental struggles,'' T'seleie said.
In addition to the state-level Dakota Access cases that have been resolved, there are several pipeline- and protest-related lawsuits ongoing in federal court. They include a challenge to the pipeline itself by four Sioux tribes in the Dakotas, a racketeering lawsuit ETP filed against environmental groups and activists, and a lawsuit against law officers and other authorities over alleged civil rights violations that the defendants deny. That lawsuit, which the legal collective is involved in, has lingered since November 2016.
“We are determined to press on for justice, no matter how long it takes,'' said legal collective board member Rachel Lederman, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs.
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A conservation organization has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Interior over oil and gas leases offered in southeast Utah, claiming the parcels are packed with ancient cultural relics.
The Deseret News reports Advocates for the West filed the suit Wednesday in federal court in Utah on behalf of Friends of Cedar Mesa.
The lawsuit targets the first of three oil and gas lease sales held in March 2018. The Bureau of Land Management has not yet issued the leases.
The parcels are between Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in Colorado and the former boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument.
The organization claims the area contains dozens of ancient community centers and Chacoan Great Houses.
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said Tuesday that his administration will keep pursuing an appeal of an independent regulatory commission's approval of Enbridge Energy's plan to replace its aging Line 3 crude oil pipeline across northern Minnesota, siding with environmental and tribal groups in his biggest decision since becoming governor last month.
The state Public Utilities Commission approved the project last summer. Then-Gov. Mark Dayton's Department of Commerce appealed that decision in December, as did several groups opposed to the project. The Minnesota Court of Appeals last week dismissed those appeals as premature and sent the dispute back to the commission for further proceedings. That move forced the Walz administration to take a stand by Tuesday after weeks of studying whether to continue to appeal or let the matter drop.
The Commerce Department argued under Dayton that Enbridge failed to provide legally adequate long-range demand forecasts to establish the need for the project, but the commission concluded the Calgary, Alberta-based company met its requirements. Other groups fighting the project say it threatens oil spills in pristine waters in the Mississippi River headwaters region where Native Americans harvest wild rice and claim treaty rights, and that it would aggravate climate change.
“When it comes to any project that impacts our environment and our economy, we must follow the process, the law, and the science,'' Walz said in a statement. “The Dayton administration's appeal of the PUC's decision is now a part of this process. By continuing that process, our administration will raise the Department of Commerce's concerns to the court in hopes of gaining further clarity for all involved.''
While Line 3 opponents applauded Walz for heeding the department's concerns, Republican legislative leaders said the Democratic governor made a big mistake. Enbridge said it expects to ultimately prevail.
Enbridge wants to replace Line 3, which was built in the 1960s, because it's increasingly subject to cracking and corrosion, so it can run at only about half its original capacity. It says the replacement will ensure reliable deliveries of Canadian crude to Midwest refineries. It's already in the process of replacing the Canadian segments and is running the short segment in Wisconsin that ends at its terminal in Superior.
Walz had been under increasing pressure to decide whether to fight Enbridge's plan. On Friday, faith leaders connected with Interfaith Power and Light gathered in his office to urge an appeal and left gifts of wild rice, while a mostly Republican group of 77 lawmakers sent him a letter urging him to let the project move forward. Last month , a group of scientists went to Walz's office to say the project would worsen climate change by facilitating further use of fossil fuels.
The appeals court said the next step for opponents was to refile petitions for reconsideration with the commission.
At a news conference with other Republican lawmakers, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said he was frustrated and surprised that the governor decided to keep up the legal fight. “It only further delays a project that we think will inevitably happen. ... The science is sure that this would be environmentally much safer, to replace a 51-year-old pipe with a new pipe,'' he said.
Minnesota House Republican Minority Leader Kurt Daudt issued a statement saying Walz is “throwing up unnecessary roadblocks'' to a project that will create jobs and generate property tax revenue.
Opponents of Line 3 urged Walz not to buckle.
“This dirty tar sands pipeline would threaten our clean water, communities, and climate, all for the sake of more oil our state does not need. We will continue to urge the administration to do everything in their power to stop Line 3,'' Margaret Levin, director of the Minnesota chapter of the Sierra Club, said in a statement.
Enbridge called the decision “unfortunate'' but said it will continue working with the administration to secure the necessary permits to begin construction while the challenges proceed. While Walz does not control the independent commission, he does control state agencies that issue the permits Enbridge will need.
“The Commission's approval came at the end of a thorough review of the facts, spanning four years, thousands of hours of environmental and cultural study, and substantial public comments. Enbridge believes the Commission will deny petitions for reconsideration as they have in the past,'' the company said in a statement.