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Editorial: By defying law, DAPL protesters deeply hurt their case

Energy Transfer Partners has a dispute with the U.S. government. A big dispute. A $3.8 billion dispute, to be exact. And that's a lot of money. If you had a billion dollars, and you spent a thousand dollars a day, do you know how long it would ta...

Energy Transfer Partners has a dispute with the U.S. government. A big dispute. A $3.8 billion dispute, to be exact.

And that's a lot of money. If you had a billion dollars, and you spent a thousand dollars a day, do you know how long it would take you to go broke?

Two thousand years.

Anyway, Energy Transfer Partners' dispute is over the final 1,000 feet of a 1,200-mile pipeline: the stretch that'll cross the Missouri River. The Army Corps has fully permitted the crossing, save only for an easement. But never before has the Corps denied an easement to a permitted crossing, and besides, there are legal reasons to believe the company can proceed without the document.

Or so Energy Transfer Partners is arguing in court.

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And that's what's important.

Energy Transfer Partners is making its case in court. The company is challenging the U.S. government in court. So although multiple billions are at stake, and some 1,200 miles (less 1,000 feet) of freshly buried pipeline stand at risk of being abandoned, the company will abide by the verdicts that are reached in court.

In court. Not on the ground.

Not at the site of the Missouri River crossing, where the company is not asserting its "rights" by drilling the final 1,000 feet.

Because as of this moment, and even though the company is arguing in court against this interpretation, such drilling would be against the law.

Now, contrast that restraint to the actions of the protesters not far away.

On Friday, the Army Corps ordered the protesters to vacate their campsite, which is on Army Corps land. The protesters' response?

We're not leaving. Because we say this is our land.

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Federal and state law say it's not, but we say it is. And what we say, goes.

If Energy Transfer Partners took the law into its own hands in that way, that action would be extremely prejudicial. It would sour not only the public's opinion, but also the federal government's view of the company's case.

So, too, should the protesters' action ruin their case in the eyes of the U.S. government. For why should the government comport with any group that boasts of defying federal law?

For that matter, why are the protesters asking the Army Corps to block the pipeline in the first place, if the construction is taking place on "their" land? That's easy: Because the Army Corps has the power. The protesters don't.

In short, the protesters want the advantages of U.S. citizenship, such as constitutional rights and the U.S. government's power to block corporations. But they're loftily proclaiming themselves above citizens' responsibilities, including the foundational commitment to settling disputes in court.

Here's hoping judges take a dim view of this arrogance. And here's hoping the protesters' zealotry also takes a toll where it matters most: in the court of the American mind.

Related Topics: DAKOTA ACCESS PIPELINE
Opinion by Thomas Dennis
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