Reviews | To End the Fossil Fuel Industry’s Destructive Status Quo, Congress Must Pass an Environmental Justice for All Act
As he heads off to work each day, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Fish and Game Manager Jeff Kelly watches the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) crossing the Missouri River near his home. “I pray the pipeline doesn’t break today,” he often thinks to himself, thinking of the more than 500,000 barrels of oil that flow daily under Lake Oahe.
DAPL crosses the Missouri River and Lake Oahe about 800 feet upstream from the Cannonball Tribal Reservation and community, where Director Kelly lives. For more than five years, Standing Rock has lived with the looming threat that an oil spill could destroy treaty lands, natural and cultural resources, sacred sites and drinking waters.
DAPL’s proximity to Standing Rock is no coincidence. The pipeline was originally routed to cross the Missouri River just north of Bismarck, ND, but fears that an oil spill could pollute the state capital’s drinking waters have convinced project planners to go back to the drawing board. The US Army Corps of Engineers hastily approved a new pipeline route near the tribe using a streamlined permitting process that this time resulted in the release of a finding with no significant impact .
Today, with the worsening effects of drought and climate change, the threat to the Standing Rock community is even greater. The Missouri River is currently at historically low water levels, rendering boat launches near the pipeline unusable and surrounded by mud. If an oil spill were to occur, movement of emergency response boats around the DAPL Passage – the critical area for oil spill remediation – would be nearly impossible in the increasingly shallow depths.
The concerns and needs of tribes around the pipeline continue to be ignored. As recently as last year, the Army Corps withheld critical data Standing Rock needed to write its own threat assessments and emergency response plans. The tribe felt that they had no viable option left but to withdraw their cooperating agency status.
HR 2021, the Environmental Justice for All Act, offers a solution for both Standing Rock and countless other communities across the country that face these kinds of injustices. The bill, which is being voted on by the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources this Wednesday, July 27, would ensure that communities most affected by federal actions such as permits and environmental reviews have a seat in the decision-making table.
The Environmental Justice for All Act also adds to the considerations that federal agencies must consider before issuing permits under the Clean Water and Air Act. If a project cannot demonstrate that there will be no harm to human health, the permit will not be issued. For Standing Rock, that would mean the Corps should have considered DAPL’s serious threats to the water quality of the Missouri River, the tribe’s main source of drinking water, before issuing a permit.
In addition, the Environmental Justice for All Act requires federal agencies to prepare a “community impact report” and provides early engagement opportunities for affected communities under the National Environmental Policy Act. (NEPA). The corps couldn’t get away with ignoring communities like Standing Rock again.
While the Standing Rock situation is unquestionably dire, it is unfortunately nothing new. Across the country, polluting industries have accelerated dirty and dangerous projects in communities that don’t have enough political clout or high income brackets to stop them. Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s fight for transparency, accountability and justice is one that resonates with far too many Americans.
Until Congress passes the Environmental Justice for All Act, this disturbing status quo is the law of the land. When the committee votes on the bill this Wednesday, it’s an opportunity for us to finally take a stand and show communities like Standing Rock that their lives and well-being are worth more than another windfall. industry profit. Now is the time to show the 140 million poor or low-income Americans that their health and safety cannot be bought and sold.
For Standing Rock, environmental justice has been elusive since the US government first flooded forests, wildlife and farmland along the Missouri River to create Lake Oahe. DAPL adds another dark chapter to this story. With the Environmental Justice For All Act, we have a chance to start over with a new story that treats every American with the dignity and respect they deserve. Let’s not miss it.