Court rules against people, planet, property rights

Dear Friends,

For those of us who have fought Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) and the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) for nearly five years, today is a sad day. This morning, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that ETP had the right to forcibly take Iowans’ land for an export crude oil pipeline.

A press conference was held at the Iowa Judicial Building on September 12, 2018, the day that the Iowa Supreme Court heard statements for this case.

And make no mistake: DAPL is an export pipeline. While I’ve yet to find anyone, even inside the oil industry, who can tell me exactly how much of the oil is destined for export, it’s estimated to be somewhere between “a lot” and “most.” Consider:

Exhibit A. The legislation passed by Congress in the fall of 2015 to lift the 40-year ban on the exportation of crude oil transformed the US oil industry. Which takes us to …

Exhibit B: President Obama’s recent boast that, “suddenly America’s, like, the biggest oil producer and the biggest gas — that was me, people.” (While more Democratic politicians tend to be on the people’s side when it comes to opposing fossil-fuel pipelines, do not be deceived: Our fight against Big Oil’s political allies is a bipartisan struggle.)

Exhibit C: Joe Biden’s even more recent boast about America’s role as the world’s leading oil and natural gas producer: “The United States is soon going to be the largest producer of energy of any nation in the world by the end of the 2020s.”

Exhibit D: Just last month, as reported in the Dallas Morning News, “Energy Transfer Partners will expand its operations to China and plans to open its first office outside the United States in Beijing. … China, long reliant on coal for its power needs, is beginning to turn to natural gas and imported crude oil as energy sources … More than 70% of China’s crude oil supply is imported.”

The evidence is clear: Iowa is merely a conduit for the transport of oil so that a few Texas tycoons can get rich and China can purchase cheap, heavily-subdized US oil. The Court missed this and chose to focus on the alleged benefits to Iowans, arguing that, “Iowa is a heavy user of petroleum products … and ranks eighth in the country in per capita gasoline consumption.” (page 19)

It’s at least encouraging that the Court understands the importance of climate change, even suggesting possible legislative action: “We recognize that a serious and warranted concern about climate change underlies some of the opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline. Maybe, as a matter of policy, a broad-based carbon tax that forced all players in the marketplace to bear the true cost of their carbon emissions should be imposed. The revenues from this broad-based tax could be used to offset other taxes. But policy making is not our function …” (page 37)

That potentially opens the door to other legal action. As the devastating impacts of the climate crisis mount, those most culpable in causing the crisis need to be held accountable. Again, referencing the Court’s ruling, we should force “all players,” particularly those who benefit financially, “to bear the true cost of their carbon emissions.”

Some will now say that the fight against DAPL is finally over. Perhaps the property rights aspect of the fight is over — for now. But as science makes clear, the fight over the destruction to our planet through the exploitation and consumption of fossil fuels is only going to accelerate.

Sadly, ETP is not done with Iowa. We need to prepare for its next assault. Indications are ETP wants to expand the amount of oil running through Iowa. The most likely scenario is for ETP to build additional pumping stations to increase the flow of oil from 570,000 barrels per day to  900,000 per day! Not only would that worsen climate change, the increased pressure would certainly elevate the risk of a spill as well.

We need to stay vigilant and monitor ETP’s plans. Perhaps the Iowa Utilities Board will take the Court’s observations on climate change to heart and factor that into its deliberation about any proposed increase in how much oil is pumped through Iowa. And perhaps the Iowa Legislature will take to heart the Court’s suggestion to make ETP and others bear the true cost of their carbon emissions.

Ed Fallon