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Pipeline's Foes Mobilize after Anti-Protest Laws Fail

The Keystone XL project, proposed to span 1,200 miles from the Montana-Canada border through South Dakota and Nebraska, is expected to draw protesters when construction begins. (JosueRivas/NDN Collective File)
The Keystone XL project, proposed to span 1,200 miles from the Montana-Canada border through South Dakota and Nebraska, is expected to draw protesters when construction begins. (JosueRivas/NDN Collective File)
November 4, 2019

RAPID CITY, S.D. — Opponents to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, expected to run north to south through South Dakota, are mobilizing again now that the state's anti-protest laws were thrown out.

In 2016, a year-long protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock failed to stop construction. Then in 2019, the state Legislature passed the "Riot Boosting Act" to discourage future protests. The American Civil Liberties Union challenged the laws, and in October, a judge blocked key provisions.

Lead attorney Stephen Pevar with the ACLU said the law is clear that people who engage in force and violence can be prosecuted, but these laws went beyond that.

"All you had to do was to encourage somebody to object or protest against the pipeline and you could go to prison for 25 years if that person then engaged in force and violence,” Pevar said.

The state has agreed not to enforce the new laws and will pay ACLU attorney fees totaling $145,000.

The public has until November 18 to submit comments on the Keystone XL pipeline's Environmental Impact Statement.

But Nick Tilsen, president and CEO with the NDN Collective representing indigenous people, said he doesn't expect those comments to stop construction from beginning in spring 2020. He said he will be mobilizing others to fight for indigenous rights and water.

"They leak into the groundwater, they pollute the natural environment, the groundwater and our rivers and our streams,” Tilsen said. “And so the reason why we're resisting the pipelines is for the protection of water."

Seven of the 11 poorest counties in America are on the Indian reservations in South Dakota. But Tilsen argued the pipelines don't create local jobs or boost the economy. He said instead, they increase drugs and violence and the transient worker "man camps" contribute to the widespread killings and disappearance of indigenous women and girls.

"With the issue of murdered and missing indigenous women being at epidemic levels, there's a direct correlation between fossil-fuel industry and the epidemic of murdered and missing Indigenous women,” he said.

A Keystone pipeline leak of crude oil in northeast North Dakota last week was one of the state's larger spills on record.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - SD