Editorial says racism not issue in pipeline route

Forum Communications has had just about enough of the talk of racism surrounding the pipeline near the Standing Rock tribal land in North Dakota, according to today’s Grand Forks Herald barn burner of an editorial lambasting protesters.

The editorial, signed by Tom Dennis, disputes the protesters’ assertion of a double standard in the location of the pipeline route when it was steered away from Bismarck and toward the Standing Rock territory.

It’s responding to this segment on The Daily Show:

It’s not racism, Dennis argued in his editorial rebuttal. The pipeline was directed away from a city… with a lot of white people. But that doesn’t mean race was involved.

For months, protesters have accused Bismarck residents of racism and used the charge to justify the anti-pipeline cause. That hurt: Racism is an explosive charge, and if, in fact, the pipeline had been rerouted because it was NSFW—Not Safe for Whites, in comedian Trevor Noah’s words—the project would have been discredited.

Not one syllable of such evidence surfaced. Just the opposite: Clearly, the Army Corps’ routing avoided cities, not “whites,” and put the pipeline through the rural Midwest—which is mostly populated by whites.

Why didn’t it matter that on its way toward skirting the Standing Rock Reservation, the pipeline passed near the North Dakota towns of Epping, Watford City, Halliday, Dodge, Golden Valley, New Salem and Almont, among others? Or near dozens of other towns and past thousands more people on its way to Illinois?

It didn’t matter because evidence seldom matters, once the charge of racism is thrown.

As liberal columnist Froma Harrop recognized recently, “obsessive appeals to racial, ethnic, sexual and gender identity groupings are bad politics.” They work on occasion; they worked in this case. But they turn off voters by the millions, as the GOP’s dominance in statehouses shows.

Dennis also suggested out-of-area protesters were hypocritical by driving cars to the protest. “They used machines that kill 33,000 a year, in order to protest a miniscule water-contamination risk,” he wrote.

The company’s flagship, Fargo Forum, is a little less pugilistic in its editorial, although it shifts blame to the state’s politicians for criticizing the federal government’s review of the pipeline route to move it away from tribal lands.

Like it or not, the fed decision allows a cooling off period during which protesters can leave the camps south of Mandan near Cannon Ball, N.D. The law enforcement presence can be ratcheted way down. Roads can open. The fear that has plagued nearby farms and ranches will abate. The interlopers from out of state, many of whom have their own agendas for joining the protests, likely will leave because without confrontations there will be no headlines, TV pictures and “advocacy” reporting tilted to favor protesters.

But the issues that animated the protesters and forced state and federal officials to take another look at the pipeline permitting process have not been sufficiently addressed. It’s all on hold. For how long? The state’s congressional delegation—Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer and Sen. John Hoeven, and Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp—seems to think President-elect Donald Trump’s statements favoring completion of the pipeline will make everything peachy-keen in a couple of weeks. Dreamers all, if Trump reverses the decision to delay the permit.

The Forum called on the Trump administration to continue the review of the pipeline route to allow everyone in the dispute to cool off.

Meanwhile, in the Star Tribune’s editorial today, the paper seemed to reject the Herald’s assertion that the protest is inconsistent with the factors that got Trump elected.

U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., and House Speaker Paul Ryan, who have criticized the decision and blamed President Obama for influencing it, ought to keep that in mind. It reflects well on our nation that protesters camped out far from the corridors of power were heeded instead of K Street lobbyists. That three different federal agencies had raised concerns about the reviews of the pipeline’s environmental and cultural risks underscored the need for additional scrutiny.

Trump should weigh his administration’s pipeline policy with these points in mind. His anti-elitist, anti-corruption campaign won over average voters. Trump would have a global public relations disaster on his hands if the pipeline decision were quickly reversed after the inauguration. The guy who would benefit from such a move is a textbook example of the wealthy elite: Kelcy Warren, the Texas billionaire who is the pipeline company’s CEO. A political action committee linked to the pipeline company is a major contributor to the Republican Party.

Related: With Dakota Access pipeline halted, what happens now? (MPR News)

  • Gary F


    “It didn’t matter because evidence seldom matters, once the charge of racism is thrown.”

    And its not just the pipeline story.

    • It’s kind of interesting in that the debate actually highlights a principle behind the fake news boom.

      The “prove you’re not” syndrome.

      • Gary F

        Its not just the “fake news” sites, its been a tactic of the center-left for a long time. Not officially an Alinsky rule, but a hybrid of many.

        • Rob

          Ahhh, my first YAWN of the day…

        • Ralphy

          Ya. Those crazy lefties. Following Lee Atwater’s lead all the way to brietbart.
          Oh wait. What?

        • jon

          I thought it was called propaganda…. and it was a tactic of EVERYONE for a long time now… For instance your post just now, not really rooted in fact, shows a strong basis and suggests something is far more one sided than it is… that’s propaganda!

          “fake news” is just more propaganda to make it sounds like “fake news” isn’t actually propaganda.

  • BReynolds33

    I think the Grand Forks Herald may need a lesson in the difference between overt racism and systemic racism. After living there for five years, it certainly doesn’t surprise me that the editorial staff can’t think past the border of their quaint little nepotistic town.

  • Mike

    The pipeline dialogue serves as a good illustration of how we can now talk about racism in this country, but social class is still problematic.

    The pro-pipeline crowd makes a fair point – that it doesn’t make sense to route this through more heavily populated areas because the risk of a leak will disrupt/damage the lives of far greater numbers of people in that scenario. But isn’t that a tacit admission that the risk might be more than “miniscule”?

    Setting aside the population density concerns, we’re left with both racism and social class. I wouldn’t argue that there isn’t an element of the former. But resource extraction economies, and the exploitation and pollution they create, are not limited to non-whites. Just ask coal miners in Appalachia or petroleum industry workers in Louisiana, etc.

    The poorer people are, the more disposable they are in our society. That transcends race. More than anything, it’s the lack of a critical density of affluent (or at least upper middle class) people that determines what areas become more polluted or are at risk of it.

  • jon

    So if it’s a risk for bismark, a big town with lots of people (of any color), that acknowledges that there is a risk, right?

    And there are other towns down river still… like Omaha, and St. Louis… then it’s still a risk for those places isn’t it?

    The original plan had the pipe crossing the Missouri river once, north of bismarck, the new plan has it crossing the river once, and also 3 tributaries (all of which join the Mighty Mo just south of bismarck, north of the new river pipeline crossing)

    Now I’m not risk analysis expert, but 4 water crossings and 4 different places where the pipe could contaminate the Missouri seems like a bigger risk than 1.

    And the change in the number of people impacted by increasing the risk 4 fold? probably not all that significant… St. louis and Omaha have almost a million people in the two cities alone, not counting suburbs, and other small towns down river. Hard for bismarck to compete with that with only 70K people living there.

    • Sam M

      So if there is any risk we shouldn’t proceed with a project? Got it. Makes sense. Thanks.

      I think we should just load all this oil in rail cars then. Oh wait we don’t want that either.

      The reason for the post was about racism and not to debate the merits of the project and the risk.

      • Jared

        You’re not responding at all to the point jon made. He’s arguing that crossing at Bismarck has less risk overall compared to the current path, so the current path doesn’t seem to make sense. There’s no statement of throwing the project out. Don’t read. Assume points. Get upset. Feels good.

        I don’t know how valid the argument is but it makes some sense and follows the idea that if you don’t see it, it’s not a threat so cities downstream might not be as concerned.

        And the post is about racism, but the impact of any racism comes in part from the risks involved with the project. I doubt many of the people of Bismarck would care if there were no risks of a spill.

        • Sam M

          You guys are both right. My mistake I did miss his point.

          I’m guessing they view the water crossings as less dangerous because they can contain it if there is a spill which is the risk of having it cross water. The danger is an explosion of some sort on the pipeline and that explosion being close to a large city.

          • jon

            So the risk of explosion is why they move the pipeline from being ~10 miles north (upriver) from bismarck to being ~10 miles south west (making bismark down the prevailing wind from the pipeline)

            I’m not feeling like that adds up either.

            Also putting it next to an existing natural gas line seems like a really bad idea if the prevailing risk is an explosion… seems like things are only going to be compounded at that point.

          • Sam M

            I don’t understand why people are saying that new route is supposed to save Bismark then if it is about the same distance away. If we aren’t saving Bismark then no racism:)

            I obviously don’t have the detailed knowledge that the rest of you have on the subject but I also don’t know that any of us have been in the the meetings and have all the facts as to why they chose the route they did so the armchair quarterbacking and racism charges gets a little tiresome. People always assume they they know better than everyone else and usually we don’t.

            Thanks for the insightful information guys.

          • jon

            I don’t assume I know better than anyone else… I do sometimes presume I know more than many people on the internet because most of them ARE armchair quarterbacks who are simply repeating the same talking points.

            Many of which are easily debunked, or generate questions no one seems to have the answers to.

            The whole situation at standing rock is rip for misinformation because the sources for information are usually facebook or the police statements… two sides to the argument and no one seems to have facts just opinion and propaganda…. finding reality in this situation is hard, so it appears that people have just opted out of that and gone with whatever supports their preconceptions.

          • Sam M

            I appreciate the knowledge you dropped on me for sure.

            Want to get some maps out and figure out our own route:)? I’m sure there would be a nice “consulting” fee.

          • jon

            Honestly, I think I might like trains.

            I know a pipeline for traditional crude is safer than trains, but tar sands and fracking oil from what I hear is abrasive and wears pipelines out quickly. oil in a car on a train doesn’t have that problem since it just sits and isn’t moving against it’s container.

            Rail lines can move anything, and I think an improvement to rail lines to route them around population centers might make the most sense in the long run…. that way we can move any hazardous material…

            I acknowledge the trains have problems with volume derailments, etc. but we are still using rail infrastructure from the 1800’s so it seems like a worthwhile investment compared to oil pipelines for oil fields that might be dry in the next few decades (or might not be profitable in the next few hours depending what OPEC does).

            Seems like an investment in rail might be the better of the options.

          • Carl Crabkiller

            You are correct on the Tar sands oil being corrosive, but the DAPL will not carry tar sands oil, only N.D sweet crude.

          • Sam M

            Possibly but the monitoring done on pipelines especially newer lines is pretty impressive.

          • jon
          • Sam M

            Saw that:) We don’t know what kind of monitoring it had on or in it. No perfect system. Plenty of stories about crashing train cars and spill into rivers.

      • jon

        There is risk, and the plan to mitigate that risk appears to be to quadruple it, for other people.

        When you can justify that, rather than building a strawman, come back and reply, I’d like to read an answer to the questions I posed above rather than attacks on statements I never made.

  • MrE85

    I would like to see a little more discussion on WHY the pipeline is being built, not just it’s planned route.

    • Dan

      To move oil more efficiently, as opposed to shipping by rail.

      • MrE85

        My point, as many have guessed by now, is that if we don’t somehow stop burning petroleum at the levels we are now, this issue won’t go away.

  • Mike Worcester

    I had someone ask recently “why this pipeline?” Meaning, why when considering all the other pipelines that have been built and in use, why protest this one. My response was that this pipeline had become one of those flashpoints, where folks who had “had enough” finally stood up and said, ‘enough!’

    It was difficult to read the coverage of the events unfolding and not see a tinge of racial animus directed at the protestors. To me, this was where the racial angle came in; that those protesting were the subject of the invective..

    North Dakota as a state has always been wedded economically to natural resources, be it coal, oil, or ag. So when those livelihoods are threatened, they react. This is a state who when they found out that a company had built and been operating a pipeline illegally for *two years*, did nothing because they were afraid that other companies would shy away from investing in their state.


  • JStrander

    Real Question:
    Was the plan/route ever discussed and approved by the Tribe who’s land the pipeline will be on?

    • jon

      Federal courts have said that it’s not their land.

      We could go on about if that was a good or bad decision… but legally it is the decision that presently stands.

      • JStrander

        So it might be argued that’s part of the issue. Historically, whenever the use of land that was previously agreed to belong to (or be owned by) Native Americans was desired the government simply invalidated or ignored treaties.

        • jon

          That has happened historically, and if you’ve evidence that it happened in this case I’d love to see/read it.

          It’s a topic that hasn’t gotten much coverage that I can find.

          I tend to think that a lot of these issues that aren’t getting much coverage in the traditional press aren’t getting it because it’s a non-issue, I’ve spoken to many of those in other comments already. Existing natural gas lines, risks of explosions, etc.

          So much misinformation is coming out about standing rock it’s hard to say what actually matters and what is just chaff.

  • Anna

    Five years ago, I worked briefly in the oil field centers of North Dakota at a LTC facility.

    I had the privilege of working alongside a very talented and compassionate CNA named Sharon. She was Native American but I’m not sure which tribe. She had been working at the facility for about 3 years before I got there.

    We took our supper break together one night and she related all of the insults she had endured over the past few years from the residents at the nursing home. She said she used to get very upset at some of their comments but she finally decided it was their problem and not hers. She made a decision to give them the best care she could and ignore their racist comments.

    Judging from her experience, there is still a lot of animosity between the ranchers and farmers of North Dakota and the Native Americans.

    As I said in another post, the Native Americans in North Dakota have reason to distrust the U.S. government. They have only on rare occasions honored their promises established by treaty.

    In 1944, the Oahe Dam was built stripping the Cheyenne Reservation and the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation of 200,000 acres of land. They were forced to relocate and have not really recovered from that displacement.

    Anytime a powerful corporation or the U.S. government want to have their way, it is on the backs of those who are the least able to stand up for themselves as Mike pointed out in his earlier post.

    Not only is this a culture war, it is a social class war.

    As jon pointed out, the Missouri runs through not just North Dakota towns but towns in Iowa, Nebraska and Missouri. It is one of the major tributaries of the Mississippi River as well.

    Ask the people of the Gulf Coast about oil spills and the effects they have had on their way of life.

  • MrE85

    You have to give them credit for using ‘Pyrrhic’ in the headline.

  • Will

    Why can’t we have the decision made purely by numbers of people? There’s already a major pipeline in this specific location, how does that always get lost in a discussion over this issue?

    • jon

      Isn’t the existing line a natural gas pipeline?

      Last I checked natural gas when released into the atmosphere spreads out and disperses… it’s great for the environment, but it’s no tar sands/fracking oil sludge falling into the water.

      If the concern is the pipeline exploding (which is a new one for me) then having a near by natural gas line is even more concerning.
      If the concern is a leak then natural gas less concerning than oil.

  • kat

    Isn’t this the same old “we’re not racist- you’re racist” that people use all the time? Whatever label you want to use, it doesn’t change the problem. The Standing Rock Sioux don’t want the pipeline. A lot of good and smart people would like to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. It would be nice to be able to stop having to drive out to ND to protest police brutality and racism and work together on something that would help all of us.