Obama Plays Politics with Native American Heritage, Energy Policy

The Obama administration is playing politics with Native American heritage and energy production, dismissing Native American concerns about windmills slaughtering thousands of bald eagles while simultaneously citing Native American concerns to justify blocking construction of a major oil pipeline on primarily private land. This double standard continues the Obama administration’s longtime practice of imposing different and more stringent environmental standards on conventional energy development than on politically favored wind and solar power.

On Friday, a federal district court rejected claims by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe that construction of the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline would violate federal law. The pipeline would transport North Dakota oil through North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois. The court noted the pipeline needs almost no federal permitting of any kind because 99 percent of its route is on private land. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe nevertheless argues some of the land has particular cultural heritage, even though none of it is Sioux reservation land.

Immediately upon the federal court rejecting the Standing Rock Sioux claims, the Obama administration announced it would block the pipeline anyway, refusing to allow the pipeline to cross manmade Lake Oahe in North Dakota. Lake Oahe was created by a dam on the Missouri River in central South Dakota, creating a lake that stretches over 200 miles north into central North Dakota.

“We appreciate the District Court’s opinion on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act.  However, important issues raised by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other tribal nations and their members regarding the Dakota Access pipeline specifically, and pipeline-related decision-making generally, remain,” the United States Department of Justice asserted in a September 9 press release.

“The Army will not authorize constructing the Dakota Access pipeline on Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe until it can determine whether it will need to reconsider any of its previous decisions regarding the Lake Oahe site under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or other federal laws,” the press release stated.

The press release failed to mention the federal district court already found the pipeline complies with federal law.

The Obama administration’s professed concern for Native American cultural heritage rings hollow considering it continues to frustrate the concerns of the Osage and other Native American tribes regarding wind turbines decimating bald eagle populations.

In May, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed allowing a near four-fold increase in the number of bald eagles wind turbines will be allowed to kill without penalty.  The new federal rule would allow wind turbines to kill up to 126,000 bald eagles per year.

Robert Holden, deputy director of the National Congress of American Indians, told the Indian Country Today Media Network that many Native American tribes are fiercely against expanding the number of allowable bald eagle kills. Many of the kills would come near Native American lands and would impact the number of the sacred eagles on Native American reservations.

“We are on record about our opposition to this new eagle take rule, but the Fish and Wildlife Service has completely disregarded and ignored Native American concerns in favor of green energy development,” said Holden.

The Osage Tribe has spent years trying to get the Obama administration to listen to its concerns.

“When we lay every one of our dead souls down, we send an eagle feather with them to help them get to paradise, heaven and home,” Everett Waller, chairman of the Osage Minerals Council, told Indian Country Today. “We have done this for ten thousand years.”

“Who is going to protect that bird?” Walker asked. “I thought it was sacred to the United States and the Native American people.”

This article first appeared at Forbes.com.

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