After sensible move on Keystone, Trump should be cautious on Dakota Access pipeline

Published 10:22 am Thursday, February 2, 2017

Minneapolis Star Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency

President Trump’s first week in office included executive orders to revive two controversial pipeline proposals halted during former President Barack Obama’s administration. Trump’s move on Keystone XL, which will deliver heavy crude from Canada to U.S. refineries, is sensible and will boost public safety in Minnesota.

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His decision on the other, the Dakota Access pipeline spurring protests near a North Dakota Indian reservation, was premature. Trump should have first wielded his deal-making skills to defuse still-close-to-boiling-over tensions between the Standing Rock Sioux Nation, the pipeline company and local law enforcement. Without intervention by a coolheaded authority, violence as the pipeline construction resumes is a distinct possibility.

Citing concerns about the safety of other methods of oil transport, the Star Tribune Editorial Board previously backed Keystone’s completion, putting it at odds with climate change activists whose political clout spurred Obama’s rejection of the pipeline. This nation still relies on crude oil, which typically needs to be transported vast distances to refineries. There is no risk-free method, and pipelines, though imperfect, are safer than rail, truck and ship.

Minnesota more than most states had a stake in this debate. Rail lines crisscross the state. Trains pulling 100 or more tankers have become “rolling pipelines” passing through cities large and small and along rivers such as the Mississippi that supply drinking water for the metro. Railroads have made safety improvements, such as slowing train speed or upgrading tanker cars to sturdier models. Still, fiery explosions in Lac Megantic, Quebec, and Casselton, North Dakota, illustrate the danger of rail transport.

A Keystone spur line would help relieve the oil train traffic coming through Minnesota. Supporting it is logical and conscientious, particularly with federal analysis showing that blocking the pipeline would do little to slow the development of Canadian oil sands and, by extension, global warming. The reason: The oil would just be transported a different way.

The Dakota Access pipeline will cross under the Missouri River near North Dakota’s Standing Rock reservation. The tribe has raised concerns about pipeline leaks contaminating drinking water and disturbing burial grounds and other culturally sensitive locations. Three federal agencies have also raised concerns about the quality of the environmental and cultural reviews that have taken place. Those issues should not be shrugged off as federal agencies move forward after Trump’s executive order.

The volatility of the ongoing protest also warrants caution. The encampment near the pipeline’s proposed river crossing drew thousands of protesters last year. Clashes between them and North Dakota law enforcement were frequent and sometimes violent. Tensions are only going to escalate with the rapid resumption of construction, further sapping the resources of already fatigued North Dakota law enforcement.

More images of unrest from this Great Plains standoff would be shared around the world, casting further doubt on Trump’s leadership and his claims of popular support. The president, already the focus of widespread protests elsewhere over travel restrictions, doesn’t need another global PR mess to mar his first weeks in office.

Caution by the agencies charged with carrying out the Dakota Access pipeline executive order would best serve the nation and reflect positively on the fledgling Trump administration.