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Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

Activists Call for Divestment As Trump Moves Pipelines Forward


President Donald Trump signed two presidential memoranda on Jan. 24 that essentially green-lighted the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. The executive orders are just one part in a multi-pronged approach to dismantling the Obama administration's environmental legacy.

As a review: Keystone XL is a 1,100-mile pipeline that will connect oil from tar sands Alberta, Canada, to U.S. refineries on the Gulf Coast. Former President Barack Obama rejected the pipeline in 2015.

Trump’s memorandum resubmits the application to the State Department for a presidential permit to construct and operate Keystone XL, which it needs because it crosses international lines. The State Department will have 60 days to make a final decision on the application by TransCanada, the company that wants to build the pipeline.

Trump’s memorandum for the Dakota Access pipeline directs federal agencies to expedite reviews and approvals for the remaining portion of the pipeline, which would cross the Missouri River.

The Dakota Access pipeline is 1,100 miles long and worth $3.8 billion. It's set to carry around 500,000 barrels crude oil per day from the Bakken and Three Forks oil production areas in North Dakota to a hub in Patoka, Illinois. The pipeline would stretch across four states: North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois.

Both pipelines represent environmental damage, advocates insist. Keystone’s route will go from Alberta, Canada, to Texas. Along its way, spills, explosions or other events could harm ecosystems, pollute water and put public health in jeopardy. The Keystone Pipeline will cut through six states -- and cross the Missouri, Yellowstone and Red rivers, plus the Ogallala Aquifer which supplies water for a quarter of the irrigated land in the U.S. and provides drinking water for 2 million people.

Keystone XL would double the import of tar sands oil into the U.S. The carbon emissions from tar sands oil production is three to four times greater than those from conventional oil, because extracting and refining it is more energy-intensive. The pipeline would transport 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil a day into the U.S. The carbon emissions from that oil are equivalent to over 5.6 million cars added to American roads, according to a report from Friends of the Earth.

Meanwhile, the Dakota Access pipeline is rife with controversy. It would pass within half a mile of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota -- and Native American protesters say building crews have already desecrated sacred burial sites. The pipeline is also set to cross the Missouri River, which supplies drinking water to 17 million Americans, including the Standing Rock Sioux.

Members of the Standing Rock tribe, as well as thousands of their supporters, fiercely opposed the construction — and many are still braving the North Dakota winter in protest camps near the pipeline site.

The concerns cited by the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club highlight why people continue to protest the pipeline. The pipeline could pollute water sources, harm farmland, and cause damage to wildlife and sensitive natural areas, the chapter says. The pipeline would add 50 million tons of carbon to our atmosphere, equal to 10 million cars or 15 coal plants, according to the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance (GGJA).

The Dakota Access route cuts across prairie lands, farmland and waterways, including the mighty Missouri River. It cuts across treaty lands of the Oceti Sakowin and will cross along the northern borders of the Standing Rock Sioux. It will pass only 12 miles upstream from the Standing Rock Sioux’s drinking water supply, which impacts over 10,000 people.  

Both pipelines carry a risk of an oil spill. Canada and the U.S. each suffered a major pipeline spill in the past week alone, only further amplifying advocates' calls to limit pipeline construction. 

“They are both terrible ideas for several reasons,” Doug Norlen, economic policy program director of Friends of the Earth, told TriplePundit of the pipelines.

“The Dakota Access pipeline route is a human rights atrocity in terms of its impacts on the Standing Sioux tribal rights, the poisoning of local communities and watersheds. [Both pipelines are] perpetuating a global industry that is doing harm around the planet.”

Activists vow to keep fighting, call on banks to divest

Trump’s greenlighting of the two pipelines will not stop activists from fighting against them. Speaking about the Keystone XL pipeline, Norlen said, “People will take it to the streets, the states and to the courts.”

He went on to point out: “Trump is very thin-skinned, and we will definitely be seeing how sad he is when people take this movement to the streets, including those around his new house.”

One way that activists have fought against the Dakota Access pipeline is to call for the 17 banks that directly fund it to divest.

“Banks should reject Energy Transfer Equity’s preliminary request for $2.2 billion, given the company’s climate-wrecking business model and egregious human rights abuses at Standing Rock,” Jason Opeña Disterhoft, senior campaigner for the Rainforest Action Network, said in a statement. “Here’s an opportunity for banks to do the right thing. Stay away from funding this loan and steer clear of investing in Energy Transfer again.”

The banks that are directly involved include Citibank and Wells Fargo. 

It's going to continue,” Norlen said of the call for divestment. "[Activists] have greatly advanced the use of financial campaign tools and taken it to a new level, and we can expect that kind of approach to continue."

Image credit: Flickr/Fibonacci Blue

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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