Yesterday, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers denied the final permits required for the Dakota Access Pipeline project in North Dakota, effectively halting construction of the nearly-complete pipeline. Instead, it plans to conduct an environmental impact review and look for alternative routes for the remaining portion of the project.
This complete reversal by the Corp — today would have been the deadline to vacate the private property that 10,000 protesters were occupying — was called by House Speaker Paul Ryan “big-government decision-making at its worst.” Maybe, but it’s worse than that. This is a victory for mob rule.
A statement from Army Assistant Secretary for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy included the following:
“Although we have had continuing discussion and exchanges of new information with the Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access, it’s clear that there’s more work to do… The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing.”
From this statement, one gets the impression that the Corp realized it did not do its due diligence in approving the route that the pipeline, until yesterday, was to follow.
It is as though it did not give the Standing Rock Sioux, among others, the opportunity to voice their opinion regarding the pipeline. In reality, the public record indicates that it held nearly four hundred meetings with dozens of tribes, including nearly a dozen meetings with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe themselves.
Were the Standing Rock Sioux’s concerns heard, perhaps, but previously ignored? A federal judge determined that “the Tribe has not carried its burden to demonstrate that the Court could prevent damage to important cultural resources by enjoining the Corps’ DAPL related permitting.” Upon consideration of the concerns, then, the concerns were not considered well-founded and were not sufficient to halt the construction of the pipeline.
Nothing about that fact has changed. Neither the Obama administration nor the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers has presented any evidence, nor even made the argument, that the Standing Rock Sioux’s concerns have any basis that warrants a new route.
For example, one objection to the pipeline’s construction was the potential destruction of sites of historical significance. However, the North Dakota State Historic Preservation Office’s review of the current pipeline route found no significant historical sites. Indeed, the route was altered to avoid those that were found during the review.
Were the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers or the administration to produce evidence that the pipeline would destroy such a site, there would be grounds to seek an alternate route. No such argument or evidence has been made. None of the other concerns of the Standing Rock Sioux have been newly found to have any basis. The Corp is denying the permits not because the legal process in place to ensure that the concerns of the Tribe were taken seriously was circumvented, nor because new evidence has come to light regarding those concerns.
Instead, the permits have been denied because a lot of people have been protesting loudly on private property and on social media, joining a far from unanimous portion of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe that was late to the game and did not follow the process when they were repeatedly given the opportunity to.
The Obama Administration has not only chosen to change its policy arbitrarily, in spite of the good faith efforts of both Army Corp of Engineers’ and the pipeline company itself, it has done so because a noisy crowd of busybodies made a public spectacle on an issue over which they have no jurisdiction.
In other words, big government has succumbed to decision by mob.
Previously, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers’ position, which included requiring people to vacate the private property on which they were protesting, was in accordance with the law, including the First Amendment, which does not protect the right to free speech in this instance. Furthermore, they chose not to forcibly remove the protesters, but to deny the delivery of supplies so that the protesters would ultimately decide to leave of their own accord.
In a complete reversal, the Corp has not insisted that the protesters leave and allow for the construction of a pipeline the company constructing which had properly pursued and acquired all necessary permits, but instead has decided that the protesters get to decided if and where a pipeline goes.
This is a dangerous imbalance of democracy and rights. The American republican ideal is that, while many elements of government include a democratic process, our government as a whole is a constitutional republic. This means, among other things, that there are checks on the decision-making power of the people by rights, specifically to property in this case, and rule by law, not by men.
This decision by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, perhaps at the behest of higher-ups in the Obama Administration is a succumbing to democracy, understood broadly, unchecked and regressing into mob rule, much as Plato might have warned against.