In case you don't follow stories that many media outlets largely ignore, here's a brief overview of what's been going on in North Dakota the past few months (this is a huge simplification, because most of us don't have the attention span for the long, technical version as an introduction to a blog post; there's plenty of information out there if you want to do some more in-depth research).
(1) A large company wants to build an oil pipeline, called the Dakota Access Pipeline, or DAPL.
(2) The original route went just north of Bismarck, a city full of white people. When the Army Corps of Engineers said they couldn't go there, the route was redrawn.
(3) This new route would go under a river that serves as a drinking water source for Native Americans half a mile south of the proposed route.
(4) Pick your term — Water protectors, demonstrators or protesters — have been out in force to try to stop the pipeline. They've been subjected to violent treatment by police (more. They've camped out for months and really gone above and beyond what most permitting processes would call "public input."
(5) The Army Corps of Engineers just this past Sunday decided they would not issue permits for this route, either.
(6) On Monday, the company building DAPL said they're going to build it anyway, on the route they couldn't get permits for.
In other words, the company basically said, "Well, we asked for permits, we didn't get them, and we're just going to build without the permits."
The fine for digging without permits, then, must be worth the cost of doing business.
Go listen to the podcast at the bottom of this post. The podcast was aired, and the post written, before the events of this past weekend. But this provides some good background and resources for us ignorant folk.
Here in Savannah, we have a historic district. It's beautiful, and comes with a bunch of rules. Want to build a fence in your yard? Public hearing. Permits. Want to build a porch that isn't an exact percentage of frontage? Public hearing. Permits. Want to put up a modern-looking building? Don't bother asking. Signs? Hearings. Permits. Awnings? Hearings, permits.
This is not unusual, especially in older cities, and municipalities that are near-saturated with buildings.
Imagine if people just skipped permits and did whatever they wanted to? We'd have shoddy construction, weird-looking buildings, people hitting gas lines and sewer lines and buried electrical lines, and property values would plummet.
This is actually why we have permits.
In the case of DAPL, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe has very reasonable concerns about their drinking water. Drilling and digging are potentially polluting activities. Pipelines leak all the time (way more often than I thought — I figured there were probably a few every decade, which still makes for reasonable concern on drinking water). Talk to the people of Flint, Michigan, about what it's like to have water problems.
(1) Why do we have a public input period if people have to camp out and face violence for permitting bodies to listen?
There's another whole problem here, and that's a matter of sovereignty. While the pipeline wouldn't actually go through Native land, it would pass really close, and have environmental implications on what is technically sovereign territory. If we were getting really close to Canada, we'd be talking to their government. Same with Mexico (yes, even under a Trump presidency). We should be doing the same for the Standing Rock Sioux.
I'm no legal expert, but the way I understand sovereignty is...sovereignty. Many Nations have allowed easements for interstates to go through their land, but sovereignty says they could certainly place toll booths on the road and collect whatever they want for tolls. Or they could put walls across the road and you'd just have to go somewhere else.
Sound ridiculous? So does walking a half-mile away from the border and sending a pipeline under a river that serves as a drinking source.
One more for you...this appears to be some white guys threatening some Native Americans. Hard to get some context, but it's out there.