Tribe Leader: Government Offered ‘Check-in-the-Box’ Consultation on Pipeline

The federal government only allowed the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to consult in superficial ways on the controversial Dakota Access pipeline, a tribal councilman said at House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on Wednesday.

Chad Harrison, a councilman at-large for the tribe, testified that the Army Corps of Engineers and Department of the Interior had effectively settled on a route for the pipeline before giving the tribe an opportunity to object.

He pointed to an environmental assessment of the project, released in December 2015, that did not mention the pipeline would cross North Dakota’s Lake Oahe only a half mile from the reservation.

“We do not approve the check-in-the-box attitude of it,” Harrison said. “‘We reached out to you? Check.’ We oppose that. We want consultation. We want meaningful dialogue.”

Under then-President Barack Obama, the Army Corps of Engineers initially approved the project, then ordered a pause on construction in order to conduct a more thorough environmental review. The Trump administration has since approved the project without finishing the longer review.

Some Republicans on the committee criticized the tribe for not taking advantage of the opportunities it had to give input. Rep. Markwayne Mullen (R-Okla.) said officials held 389 meetings to get comments from tribal leaders, but Harrison said those attempts were not a meaningful attempt at consultation.

Mullen said the tribe should support the location of the pipeline crossing because it’s in an area that had already been developed for an earlier easement, so the construction would not alter any land that hadn’t already been disturbed.

Harrison hesitated when Mullen asked what the tribe considered a better location for the pipeline to cross.

“The answer is you don’t want it,” Mullen said. “You just don’t want it.”

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