Reps. Huffman, Grijalva, 21 Members of Congress, Recommend Steps to President Obama to De-escalate Tensions at Dakota Access Pipeline

November 15, 2016

Washington, D.C.- President Obama should take concrete steps to reduce the tensions at the Dakota Access Pipeline, argued Representatives Jared Huffman (D-CA), Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), and 21 members of Congress in a letter to the White House. The lawmakers recommend that the federal government deny the easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross Lake Oahe, deploy observers to ensure water protectors and journalists are safe and their rights are upheld, and urge the state of North Dakota to stand down from its escalation of the use of force. The letter follows yesterday’s announcement by the Army Corps of Engineers that the agency will continue consultations with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe before making a final decision on the fate of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline.

“The Dakota Access Pipeline has been a call to action for those who believe in protecting the climate and tribal lands and rights,” said Rep. Huffman.  “Fortunately, President Obama can immediately ease this conflict by prohibiting the easement of the pipeline and sending observers from the Department of Justice to protect civil rights. In the coming months, President-elect Trump – who has personally invested in this pipeline company – will undoubtedly signal an oil and gas industry takeover of the White House. This will be one of the many battles we must fight and we must stand together to protect the environment, sacred tribal lands, freedom of the press, and the right to peaceful assembly.”

“The EMAC is intended to help aid the victims of natural disasters -- not to help suppress our Constitutionally protected right to peacefully assemble,” said Rep. Grijalva. “Its use in this way, and the escalating law enforcement and National Guard presence in response to unarmed demonstrations, betrays our values as a nation and aids a private corporation whose pipeline threatens Native American burial and sacred sites, and clean drinking water. The Army Corps is right to continue consulting with the Standing Rock Sioux – these consultations cannot succeed in the current atmosphere. Justice Department observers should be sent to the area without delay to ensure that this badly needed dialogue – which should have started much sooner – is not marred by civil rights abuses occurring just down the road.”

The signatories on the letter along with Congressman Huffman and Grijalva are Representatives Steve Cohen (D-TN), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), John Conyers (D-MI), Sam Farr (D-CA), Mike Honda (D-CA), Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr. (D-GA), Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), Barbara Lee (D-CA), John Lewis (D-GA), Ted W. Lieu (D-CA), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), James P. McGovern (D-MA), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Gerald E. Connolly (D-VA), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI),  and Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL).

A copy of the letter may be found HERE or below:

Dear President Obama,

We were encouraged by your recent comments regarding the Dakota Access Pipeline, and we thank you for recognizing the importance of preserving and protecting the sacred lands of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the importance of allowing for peaceful demonstrations.

Watching the historic, peaceful gathering in and around the Standing Rock Sioux reservation of hundreds of Americans from all corners of the United States, we are shocked to see increasingly hostile tactics deployed by state and local law enforcement officials. We believe that the federal government can take one important step today to immediately de-escalate growing tensions, by denying the easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross Lake Oahe.

In addition, we urge you to take the necessary steps to protect the rights and civil liberties of the water protectors by directing the Department of Justice to send observers, as well as request that North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple to reduce tension in the area by withdrawing the National Guard and other law enforcement personnel that have been deployed around the camp.

Recent reports show an escalation in force with riot gear, batons, armed vehicles, sound cannons, and pepper spray being deployed against the demonstrators, resulting in over one hundred arrests. As part of this show of force, the Macon County Sheriff’s Department called for additional resources from other states under the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), with assistance being provided from state and local officials of Wisconsin, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wyoming, Indiana, and Nebraska.

This use of the EMAC raises questions when compared to the original legislative intent of Congress in 1996 to allow member states to provide emergency assistance after natural disasters overwhelm a state’s capacity to respond. Passed following the devastation of Hurricane Andrew, EMAC has had a successful history in responding to natural disasters such as the recent Hurricane Matthew. Its use for additional law enforcement personnel and equipment to respond to this peaceful demonstration is part of a recent trend away from historical precedent; the EMAC was used following protests after the Freddie Gray murder in Baltimore, Maryland, and in advance of expected protests at this year’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio.

Under the EMAC, the requesting state is typically responsible for the reimbursement of other states for personnel and equipment, absent decisions by donating states to decline to request reimbursement. However, the state of North Dakota will reportedly be requesting federal reimbursement to cover the estimated $10 million it has expended in protecting the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline. We would strongly oppose the use of federal funds to bail out North Dakota for its decision to expedite the construction of this controversial $3.8 billion pipeline project by pushing aside and jailing demonstrators.

Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier has called the protests “criminal behavior,” and blames the water protectors for these recent events. This rhetoric is consistent with efforts to undermine press freedoms at the site, including the three felony conspiracy charges, which could carry up to forty-five years in prison, that were brought against one journalist. This legal pursuit of reporters is worrying, and is why representatives from both Amnesty International the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues are on the ground to observe and investigate the treatment of demonstrators.

Our founding ideals include the right to peaceful assembly and the freedom of the press, and we as a nation deserve better than what is happening around the Dakota Access Pipeline. We respectfully ask that you continue to work to de-escalate the situation in North Dakota, protect the safety and rights of the water protectors, deploy observers from the Department of Justice, and urge the state of North Dakota to stand down from its escalation of the use of force.