Dakota Access LLC, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, told the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in April 2016 that the final route for the 1,172-mile long Dakota Access Pipeline would not “disproportionally impact low-income or [impoverished] populations,” according to a memo obtained by InsideClimate News.
The company behind the controversial pipeline wrote an 11-page memorandum to contest comments by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe on the project’s environmental justice impacts. The company originally planned to place the pipeline near Bismarck, North Dakota, but then moved it near Standing Rock after deciding it would save them money and reduce the number of crossings. This move has become a rallying point against the oil project for the tribe and its allies.
However, Dakota Access LLC claims, per this memo, that the environmental justice impacts of the Bismarck location “are actually more direct and more disproportionate to minorities than the preferred and currently proposed route” near Standing Rock. The company’s data shows that the final route impacts two percent fewer minorities than the Bismarck crossing—yet that city is 92 percent White. Surrounding counties have populations of approximately 96 percent White.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reservation, on the other hand, is made up of almost entirely Native peoples. Like many other reservations, its people have a high poverty rate: The 30-year poverty rate average is 42 percent for Corson and Sioux counties. InsideClimate News reported that Dakota Access LLC established its numbers by considering census tract data within a half-mile radius of where it was drilling the pipeline’s boreholes across the Missouri River.
Robert Bullard, the unofficial father of environmental justice who has written and studied the issue since the 1980s, told InsideClimate News that the analysis and methodology “was designed intentionally to somehow minimize and mask the impacts of this project on the Standing Rock community.”
The use of a confidential memo goes against the traditional method of environmental justice assessments, as sources tell InsideClimate News. Former EPA American Indian Environmental Office Director JoAnn Chase says this memo is unlike any she has ever read. Even previous “controversial” environmental justice assessments were public, she tells InsideClimate News.
The EPA is also headed in a different direction with its new administrator Scott Pruitt taking charge. President Donald Trump is championing the Dakota Access Pipeline, so it's unclear how, if anything, this memo could change a White House-supported project.
Check out InsideClimate News' full report on this memo with appropriate infographics and all here.