Obama's South Dakota visit brings out pipeline protesters
WATERTOWN, S.D. -- While many people Friday in Watertown were hoping to get a glimpse of President Barack Obama, Dallas Goldtooth hoped it would be the other way around. Goldtooth, a member of the Indigenous Environmental Network, was hoping the ...
WATERTOWN, S.D. - While many people Friday in Watertown were hoping to get a glimpse of President Barack Obama, Dallas Goldtooth hoped it would be the other way around.
Goldtooth, a member of the Indigenous Environmental Network, was hoping the president would notice the group of people who gathered on a softball field outside the Watertown Civic Arena to voice opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline.
“Our hope is to visibly show that there’s folks in South Dakota who are against this pipeline and we’re in opposition to it,” said Goldtooth, a member of the Lower Sioux Indian Tribe, based in Morton, Minn. “It’s a perfect opportunity with this being his first visit to South Dakota.
Obama used his pen to side with opponents in February when he vetoed the pipeline plan that was passed by the Republican-led Congress. At the time, it was only the third veto of Obama’s presidential career. The subject didn’t come up in his remarks Friday inside the arena during Lake Area Technical Institute’s graduation proceedings.
“It’s a focal point on the national level, we just thought we should take advantage of his visit, if we could,” Goldtooth said.
The Obama administration has so far refused to grant a permit for the pipeline. A federal permit is required because it crosses the U.S.-Canadian border.
In addition to being outside the arena, Goldtooth said the group planned to spread out along the motorcade route through Watertown to make sure Obama saw the protests on the pipeline. Outside the arena, the group had large teepees set up with “Reject and Protect” written on the sides.
Dakota Rural Action Member Paul Seamans owns land near Draper that the pipeline would cross. He said his personal fight against the pipeline has gone on for seven years.
“It wouldn’t matter to me if gas cost $10 per gallon, I’d still be against the Keystone XL pipeline,” he said. “You have to continue standing up for what you believe is right.”
In South Dakota, TransCanada is in the recertification process with the state Public Utilities Commission because the Keystone XL project did not begin construction within four years of first being certified in 2010. TransCanada filed for recertification in September 2014 and opponents have lined up to testify against the pipeline. The pipeline would cover nearly 1,200 miles from Alberta, Canada, to connect with an existing pipeline in Nebraska, crossing through western South Dakota.
Seamans believes more people are paying attention to the issue this time around.
“It might have been ho-hum the first time around, but people are charged up about this,” he said. “I think a lot of people are turned off by the pushy nature of the oil companies who come in and threaten to take this deal or use eminent domain.”
Along those lines, Seamans said he felt the PUC was more cognizant of public concerns this time around and is “really listening.”
“I think you can tell they’re concerned about being as fair as they can be. They are elected officials, too,” he said.
Seamans said the notoriety of the Keystone XL pipeline project has also raised the awareness of other projects, most notably the Dakota Access Pipeline process, which is in the approval stage with the PUC and would cut diagonally across North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa.
“People are paying attention, without question,” he said.
Goldtooth attributed the so-far successful opposition to the pipeline to the partnership of environmental groups and concerned citizens, both Native Americans and non-Natives.
“It was a situation where the government really had to think twice about this. It’s all in his hands, he has the power to reject it and we’re here to encourage him to do so.”