Trahant: Pipeline Debate Should Draw Attention to Renewable Energy
A North Dakota Utilities Commission candidate says the Standing Rock Sioux protest shows we can’t simply shift toxic problems from one community to the next. We need a different energy solution.
Henry Red Cloud added his name to those traveling to Cannon Ball, North Dakota, to show support for for the people of Standing Rock and their opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Red Cloud is a candidate for the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, an agency that among its duties, regulates pipelines. He is an award-winning alternative energy innovator. What’s particularly interesting about this visit is that he is the second state utilities commission candidate to show up there, the other is Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun, who is running for a similar office in North Dakota. (Previous: Why politicians should visit Standing Rock camps)
So the Native politicians get it and head to the camps to show support. To date, Chase Iron Eyes and Ruth Buffalo (my apologies for not including her in the first piece I wrote) have shared their experiences from the camp. Buffalo wrote: “I have been to the spirit camp and the new Red Warrior Camp a few times. I first went as early as August 11 after co-presenting at the injury prevention conference in Bismarck. On the first trip I brought a box of fruit. The second trip, vegetables from my mom’s (an elder’s) … garden.”
And now Red Cloud says he’s taking the “pipeline fight to the PUC.” He will bring food and solar lighting platforms to the camp.
He said in a news release: “People are uniting against the Dakota Access Pipeline because it is dangerous to people, their land and certainly for our irreplaceable water. Farmers, ranchers, tribal members and just regular citizens hear almost every day about another oil spill or pipeline bursting. We hear from their own engineers that the work they are doing is hurried. We can’t allow them to put a pipeline under the Missouri River.”
“What many people do not realize,” says Red Cloud, “is that the Public Utilities Commission has an ongoing and important say in the pipeline’s construction. The Commission is ultimately responsible for approving or rejecting many of the steps needed for pipelines to pass through South Dakota, and for other new energy projects.”
There are two important reasons why regional politicians should travel to Standing Rock. First, to show support, as those Native candidates did. But equally important is for government officials to get a first-hand look. There is no substitute for hearing directly from the people at the camp. That’s what I don’t get. Every candidate for governor, Congress, current office holders, Interior Secretary Sally Jewel, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, and even presidential candidates, should travel and investigate. (I know the folks I have worked for in government would have done that. It’s common sense.)
Across the country there are political waves rolling from Standing Rock. The entire issue is forcing people to think differently about the cost of energy, not it terms of money, but the cost of healthy living. The Missouri and Cannonball Rivers are cleanup projects that never have to happen. If the right decision is made now.
But not everyone is there yet. In Minneapolis a proposed city council resolution of support turned into another version of moving the pipeline to someone else’s water. According to City Pages, Alondra Cano’s resolution called for “Expressing Solidarity With Indigenous Resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline.” The city council would “stand in support of Indigenous opposition” and support Standing Rock “in any way they can.” But others on the council see the pipeline as a safer alternative to the oil trains that Minneapolis and other cities want stopped.
That’s why this is The Moment. The idea is that we can no longer continue to shove toxic problems from one community to another.
As Red Cloud puts it: “We simply have to stop accepting and approving poorly planned and disastrous projects like this.”
And the solution is for a new era. In his election, it’s the call for South Dakota to “become a world class supplier of renewable energy.”
But that’s true in North Dakota too. And Minnesota. And across the globe.
“South Dakota has huge solar and wind resources and we can be a world leader in clean energy production,” says Red Cloud. “My vision is for South Dakota to transition away from oil and become the renewable energy state.”
Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports