How to beat a pipeline

  • Published on August 24th, 2018

As anyone who opposed Keystone XL between 2008 and 2016 knows, stopping a major pipeline isn’t exactly easy even when the president actually cares about the environment. With fossil-fuel–fetishizing Donald Trump in charge, it should be even harder. And yet we’ve seen major setbacks for three significant pipeline projects: the Nebraska section of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry tar sands oil, and the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines, which both would carry fracked gas.

dapl pipeline

By Michael Brune

That’s great news because these pipeline projects are dirty, dangerous, and unnecessary. Besides the obvious environmental risks to lands and waterways, building pipelines has serious human consequences, both in terms of property seized and exposure to toxic pollution. On top of that, at a time when we should be doing all we can to transition quickly to clean and inexpensive renewable energy, building unnecessary pipeline infrastructure is like forging our own dirty-fuel shackles.

So how is it that, with Donald Trump as president, we can win pipeline battles? This administration, after all, has adopted a radical, pro-polluter policy that is impervious to scientific evidence, societal costs, or direct human consequences such as the additional 1,400 premature deaths that Trump’s EPA says will result from its so-called Affordable Clean Energy Rule, which besides killing Americans would be neither affordable nor clean.

Here are three reasons we’re succeeding against these crooks. First, we can take advantage of this administration’s penchant for reckless, impetuous, and illegal action (no prizes for guessing who set that tone). Both the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines were stopped after a federal appeals court ruled that federal agencies issued permits without properly considering environmental impacts. A federal judge also told the State Department this week that it couldn’t shirk conducting a new environmental review for the Keystone XL pipeline based on changes to the pipeline’s route. Ignore — or even break — the law and it will catch up with you. Seems like there have been a few examples of that this week.

Second, the United States is not an autocracy. What’s more, the federal government, powerful though it may be, is not all-powerful. Local governments and communities have a say, too. Across the country, people who are directly affected by pipelines are making their voices heard as never before, whether they are ranchers in the West, Tribal nations in the Northwest, or rural communities in the South. A huge part of the Sierra Club’s job is to make certain those voices are heard. We can put smart lawyers in federal court, but it’s local people who have the most at stake and who will ultimately determine the outcome — folks like this West Virginia grandmother, the pilots and drone operators in North Carolina who are patrolling the construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline for environmental violations, and the pastor and swami behind an awesome alliance of Baptists and yogis in rural Virginia.

Finally, we have something on our side that Donald Trump and his corrupt administration treat like kryptonite: the truth. The president and his allies may ignore the truth or debase it at every opportunity, but it’s the truth that ultimately leads to justice. And in a just world, none of these pipelines will ever be completed.

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(Michael Brune is the executive director of the Sierra Club. Photo by Tony Webster.)

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