Tag Archives: standoff

Army halts work on Dakota Access Pipeline, calls for re-routing it

The  Army Corp of Engineers announced this afternoon that it will not grant an easement for the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline to cross the Missouri River next to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, according to the National Congress of American Indians.

Instead, the Army Corp of Engineers will study the environmental impact of rerouting the 1,172-mile pipeline, which is 87 percent complete. The current route would have run within a half-mile of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. Tribal leaders and environmentalists are concerned that a rupture in the line would contaminate the reservation’s water.

Such pipeline breaches are rare but have caused massive damage.

Once complete, the Dakota Access Pipeline will carry 470,000 barrels of light crude oil per day from northwestern North Dakota to south-central Illinois.

In September, Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, which owns the pipeline, won a federal lawsuit granting it the right to complete the pipeline on its opposed path. But protesters who had begun blocking construction in August refused to disperse. They’ve built an encampment at the site that has attracted supportive people from all over the world, including celebrities and other high-profile personalities.

Las month, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe chairman Dave Archambault II asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reassess its original conclusion that the Dakota Access Pipeline crossing would not affect tribal members. An independent consultant hired by the tribe had found that the federal government’s environmental assessment of the pipeline’s impact was unsound.

In fact, Richard Kuprewicz of Accufacts, Inc., a consulting firm that advises government agencies and industry about pipelines, said an oil spill at Standing Rock would also impact an estimated 17 million people downstream from the river.

As reported today by The Associated Press, U.S. Secretary for the Interior Sally Jewell said in a statement that the Corps’ “thoughtful approach … ensures that there will be an in-depth evaluation of alternative routes for the pipeline and a closer look at potential impacts.”

Jewell also said that the decision today “underscores that tribal rights reserved in treaties and federal law, as well as Nation-to-Nation consultation with tribal leaders, are essential components of the analysis to be undertaken in the environmental impact statement going forward.”

Energy Transfer Partners has said in the past that it would not reroute the pipeline. Speculation is that the company will wait until President-elect Donald Trump takes office and then go forward with its original plans. During his campaign, Trump promised to get rid of government “red tape” and federal regulations that stall energy projects due to their environmental impact.

Federal financial disclosures filed in May showed that Trump owns interest in the pipeline and that Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren donated $3,000 to Trump’s campaign, plus $100,000 to a committee supporting Trump’s candidacy. Warren also donated $66,800 to the Republican National Committee.

Although the fate of the Dakota Access Pipeline’s route still hangs in the balance, Archambault said in a statement today that “with this decision we look forward to being able to return home and spend the winter with our families and loved ones, many of whom have sacrificed as well.”

The epic, months-long standoff between law enforcement and pipeline protesters has escalated recently at the main protest site, Oceti Sakowin Camp. Hundreds of veterans traveled to the encampment last week to protect the protesters, who have been ordered to disperse on Monday.

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch announced Friday in a videotaped statement that she was dispatching federal mediators to ensure the ongoing standoff did not erupt into violence.

But the Army’s announcement today appears to have eased tensions, at least for the time being.

“We wholeheartedly support the decision of the administration and commend with the utmost gratitude the courage it took on the part of President Obama, the Army Corps, the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior to take steps to correct the course of history and to do the right thing,” Archambault said.

Former Janesville couple among 4 remaining armed holdouts at Oregon refuge

The four armed activists still occupying a national wildlife refuge in Oregon have shown no signs they are ready to leave more than a week after the main figures in the standoff were arrested.

Ammon Bundy led the group that seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Jan. 2 to oppose federal land policies and has repeatedly asked the holdouts to go home. The Associated Press has not been able to contact the remaining occupiers, but they have said in online statements and interviews that they want assurances they won’t be arrested.

Like most of the occupiers, none of the holdouts is from Oregon. Here are details about them:

SEAN AND SANDY ANDERSON

The husband and wife moved from the town of Janesville, Wisconsin, within the last several years to Riggins, Idaho, where Sean, 47, opened a store for hunting, tactical and survival gear. Sandy, 48, worked at a gas station.

Idaho County, where they live, and Harney County, 290 miles away where the refuge is located, are similar in many ways. Both have large portions of land managed by federal agencies and populations chafing at restrictions put on that land.

Idaho County Sheriff Doug Giddings said the Andersons are good residents, though he didn’t know as much about Sean as he did about Sandy.

“She’s a good person, she’s just upset with the government,” he told Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Sean Anderson is facing misdemeanor charges in Wisconsin for resisting an officer, possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of THC, the intoxicating chemical in marijuana.

He also has pleaded guilty to a series of misdemeanors in recent years: domestic abuse in December 2010, disorderly conduct in 2008, criminal trespass in a dwelling in 2002, and disorderly conduct in 1999.

A friend of the couple, Lindsey Dipo, told the Lewiston Tribune newspaper that the couple recorded their will on Dipo’s cellphone before departing for Oregon.

JEFFREY BANTA

The 47-year-old has lived in Elko, Nevada, the last several years and worked in construction most of his life, his ex-wife said.

Banta graduated from Yerington High School in the rural town of Yerington, about 70 miles southeast of Reno, said Angela Ellington Banta, who still lives there.

His father, Willard Banta, 73, said all of his children grew up hunting and fishing at an early age.

“I had them out in the hills with me as soon as they were old enough to walk and out of diapers,” he said Wednesday.

The elder Banta said he had talked to his son “once or twice” since the standoff began but declined to provide details.

“He just said, ‘I’m all right,'” Willard Banta said. “I’m wondering if he is going to make it out. I’d like to see my son come home. I hope he does, but I have my doubts.”

Jeffrey Banta and his ex-wife have two children, the eldest a 23-year-old woman who is married and has a child living in the Reno area.

Ellington Banta said she doesn’t really know what her ex-husband has been doing in recent years and doesn’t want to discuss the standoff because she has “two kids who have been really affected by all this.”

DAVID FRY

The 27-year-old from Blanchester, Ohio, formed an online friendship with Robert “LaVoy” Finicum and helped the Arizona rancher self-publish a novel. Finicum became a recognizable spokesman for the armed group before he was shot and killed by police in a confrontation last month.

Fry traveled, apparently unarmed and against the advice of his father, to the refuge, where he often posted online updates. He told Oregon Public Broadcasting in mid-January that he planned to say goodbye to Finicum and return home before his father got back from a vacation.

Within two weeks, Finicum was dead, shot as authorities moved in to arrest Bundy and others on a remote stretch of road outside the refuge.

Fry has rejected Bundy’s call to leave, saying federal authorities might be forcing him to make the request.

“We’re still here,” he told an online talk show Monday that airs on YouTube channel Revolution Radio. “I never saw myself as a leader. … We’re waiting for some kind of miracle to happen.”

In Ohio, Fry has several convictions for disorderly conduct, as well as possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia.

Top news of 2014 left public grasping for answers

Twenty-thousand feet down the answers may be waiting, hidden in some underwater canyon far off Australia’s coast. But more than nine months after searchers began scouring the seas for a Malaysia Airlines jetliner that vanished with 239 people aboard, the catastrophe defies resolution.

In that way, the long, fruitless hunt for clues to Flight 370’s fate set the tone for many of the headlines that defined 2014. It was a year upended by calamity and conflict, disease and division that often left the public and its leaders grasping for answers.

From Ukraine to the Middle East, from the Ebola threat to the tensions exposed by police killings in Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere, many of the top news stories fed into a growing sense of frustration.

Confronting the questions raised by the headlines brought little peace of mind. Instead, one event after another exploded, demanding attention but often rewarding it with weariness and lingering unease. Unlike 2013, when much of the news centered on Washington’s political dysfunction, many of this year’s biggest stories were rooted in far-flung locales, but their impact kept rippling.

That was certainly the case with the conflict over Ukraine, stretching back to President Victor Yanukovych’s ouster in February. When Russia filled the vacuum by grabbing the Crimean peninsula and working with militants bent on taking more territory from the western-leaning government, it set off a standoff reminiscent of the Cold War.

Militants are blamed for downing a second Malaysian jet as it flew over Ukrainian airspace in July, killing all 298 aboard, the largest number of them Dutch. U.S.-led sanctions have begun tightening a vise on the Russian economy. Months later, both sides are locked in a stare-down that can hardly be called a peace.

In less harried times, even many of the biggest news events capture the public’s attention for just a few days, or perhaps weeks, before slipping from view. But in 2014, Ukraine kept a lasting place in the headlines and was hardly an exception.

Consider that the Ebola crisis began with a case in Guinea last December. By March, the World Health Organization was tracking the outbreak and working to marshal a response. But a year after the outbreak began, there is no end to fears of a disease that has already killed at least 6,000 people.

Nearly all of those deaths came in three west African countries. But when a Liberian man with the disease died at a Dallas hospital this fall, followed by a handful of other U.S. cases, it set off a panic and doubts about whether the health system was ready. As the year neared an end, the WHO questioned reports of progress in containing the disease in Africa based on data it says is filled with inconsistencies.

The Malaysia Airlines disaster, too, captivated the world long after the plane disappeared shortly after takeoff in the early hours of March 8. Eventually, aircraft, ships and searchers from 26 countries were assembled to look for the wreckage. In October, a contractor dispatched ships with high-tech sonar to scan 23,000 square miles of Indian Ocean floor. But the job could take until at least next May, officials say, and no wreckage has ever been found.

“The sense of helplessness, the feeling of powerlessness, and the pain have not eased but only worsened as times goes by,” said Liu Weijie, whose wife was aboard the flight. He was speaking after 100 days passed without any sign of the jet.

Meanwhile, violence in the Middle East once again took command of the headlines, sometimes in ways that shocked even a public numbed by the region’s tense history.

The worst violence broke out in Libya since dictator Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown, after the Islamists in control of the national congress ignored a general’s February order to dissolve the chamber. With militias in control of Tripoli, the year ended with the country split by two governments, two parliaments, and hundreds of thousands of people displaced.

In Gaza, the June kidnapping of three Israeli teens by Hamas operatives brought a crackdown by Israeli forces, retaliatory rocket attacks and a 50-day war that killed more than 2,100 Palestinians and 72 Israelis. But it ended with no hint of a route toward resolution.

After nearly four years of civil war in Syria, the U.S. and other countries appeared stuck in a circular debate about whether and how to intercede. But the radical Islamic State group’s rapid expansion, capped by militants’ videotaped beheadings of Western hostages, jarred an expanding coalition to launch a campaign of more 1,000 bombing attacks on IS strongholds in Iraq and Syria. As the year ends, though, leaders cautioned that their vows to destroy the insurgency could take years to fulfill.

“We recognize that hard work remains to be done,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said.

Even as the war on Islamic State began, Americans turned their attention to suburban St. Louis, where in August a white police officer fatally shot black 18-year-old Michael Brown, after stopping him and a friend for walking in the middle of the street. Exactly what happened was clouded by conflicting witness accounts. Brown’s death, and a grand jury’s decision not to charge the officer, prompted a furor over law enforcement’s treatment of young, black men. Other police killings in New York, Cleveland and elsewhere just fed the public’s frustration.

If any news event offered the chance for resolution, it was the November elections that presented fed-up voters with a means for shaking up the status quo.

That’s just what they did, handing Republicans control of the Senate they sought to battle President Barack Obama and boosting the party’s strength in a number of statehouses.

But there’s been little sign that will break gridlock in Washington, where Obama’s recent decisions — particularly an executive order curbing deportations — have stirred intense GOP enmity. With the election over, public disenchantment has remained in place, with polls showing that two of every three Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, despite continued improvement in the economy.

Clearly, not all of the news stories of the past year lacked resolution. There were winners and losers at the Winter Olympics and the World Cup — which spotlighted athletic excellence, along with Russia’s outsized spending and Brazil’s political discontent. The number of states allowing same-sex marriage doubled this year, reflecting shifting attitudes and politics.

In South Korea, parents grieving over the April ferry sinking that killed 300, most of them high school students, saw the captain sentenced to 36 years in prison, fixing some measure of responsibility, but without closure.

But those headlines could not distract from the larger narrative of a country and world faced by daunting challenges and few answers within reach. That was clear in late October, when Peter Foley, an Australian coordinating the hunt for the vanished Malaysia Airlines jet, faced questions about its direction.

“We are in for the long haul,” Foley said.

He was referring only to the searchers and their role in trying to bring resolution to a singular conundrum. But he could just as well have been speaking about the challenges raised by any one of numerous news events in 2014, a year when making sense of the headlines required patience, but did little to reward it.

Even before racist comments, there was limited support for right-wing rancher

For a while, in certain quarters, Cliven Bundy was celebrated as a John Wayne-like throwback to the Old West — a weathered, plainspoken rancher trying to graze his cattle and keep the government off his back. But that was before he started sounding more like a throwback to the Old South.

Conservative Republican politicians and commentators who once embraced Bundy for standing up to Washington are stampeding in the other direction – and branding him a racist – after he suggested that blacks might have had it better as slaves picking cotton.

The furor made it apparent how limited Bundy’s appeal ever was.

Bundy, 67, and his armed supporters thwarted an attempt by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management two weeks ago to seize his family’s cattle over his failure to pay $1.1 million in grazing fees and penalties for the use of government land over the past 20 years. A local land-use dispute soon turned into a national debate, with conservatives calling it another example of big-government overreach.

But the rugged West that Bundy was said to represent has changed, becoming more urban and less concerned about federal intrusion than it was during the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion in the 1970s and ’80s. In the urban areas that now dominate the West, there have been few stirrings of support for Bundy.

Even many fellow ranchers regard him as more a deadbeat than a hero.

“You’ve got hundreds of ranchers in Nevada who pay their fee regularly,” said Tom Collins, a rancher on the Clark County Commission. “On the grazing fee issue, Bundy doesn’t have sympathy from the ranchers.”

At the Bunkerville Post Office, Chad Dalton, a lineman for a power company, said that the case brought up important issues but that they should be addressed through laws, not with guns.

“It’s a fight to be had,” Dalton said from inside a car full of his children, “but I’m not sure he’s the one to lead it.”

Eric Herzik, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, said Bundy was made into a hero by conservative activists and journalists in New York and Washington “who did not understand how extreme Cliven Bundy is … even among Sagebrush rebels and Nevada ranchers.”

In fact, the remote area outside Las Vegas where Bundy and his supporters made their stand is represented by a black Democrat, Rep. Steve Horsford.

The congressman said that many of the people in the small towns in the region, which has drawn an increasing number of retirees and tourists seeking to enjoy its open spaces, are upset with Bundy, who “does not reflect Nevada or the views of the West.”

The BLM claims Bundy’s cattle are trespassing on fragile habitat set aside for the endangered desert tortoise. Bundy says he doesn’t recognize federal authority over lands that his cattle have grazed on for years.

After the BLM called off the roundup and released about 350 animals back to Bundy, the rancher drew praise from many Republicans – most notably Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a likely 2016 presidential candidate – and condemnation from several Democrats.

Then, in an interview in last week’s New York Times, Bundy suggested that “the Negro” might have been better off during slavery rather than on government welfare.

In a statement the next day, Bundy defended himself by saying he is “trying to keep Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream alive.” At his regular afternoon address to the media and supporters at his ranch, Bundy apologized if he offended anyone. “I might not have said it right,” he said, “but it came from my heart.”

Before the newspaper story broke, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and Sen. Dean Heller, Republicans who got their political start in the sparsely populated northern end of the state, issued statements supportive of Bundy.

Bundy’s racial comments, however, drew bipartisan condemnation.

Heller’s spokeswoman said the senator “completely disagrees” with Bundy’s remarks.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, whose power base is in Las Vegas, home to most of Nevada’s Democrats, said Bundy “revealed himself to be a hateful racist.”

“But by denigrating people who work hard and play by the rules while he mooches off public land,” Reid added, “he also revealed himself to be a hypocrite.”

At a conference of Western Republicans in Salt Lake City, several conservatives reiterated their long-held complaints about federal control of vast swaths of the West. The federal government owns more than 80 percent of the land in Nevada.

Republicans complained that the federal holdings prevent development that could generate tax revenue for public services, and that environmental restrictions hinder ranchers and others who want to use some of the region’s scenic spaces. They distanced themselves from Bundy but said they hope his racial remarks don’t overshadow their concerns.

“This is bigger than one rancher in Nevada,” Utah state Rep. Ken Ivory said.

Modest deal breaks deadlock at UN climate talks

Avoiding a last-minute breakdown, annual U.N. climate talks limped forward over the weekend with a modest set of decisions meant to pave the way for a new pact to fight global warming.

More than 190 countries agreed in Warsaw to start preparing “contributions” for the new deal, which is supposed to be adopted in 2015.

That term was adopted after China and India objected to the word “commitments” in a standoff with the U.S. and other developed countries.

The fast-growing economies say they are still developing countries and shouldn’t have to take on as strict commitments to cut carbon emissions as industrialized nations.

“In the nick of time, negotiators in Warsaw delivered just enough to keep things moving,” said Jennifer Morgan, of the World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank.

The conference also advanced a program to reduce deforestation and established a “loss and damage” mechanism to help island states and other vulnerable countries under threat from rising seas, extreme weather and other climate impacts.

The wording was vague enough to make rich countries feel comfortable that they weren’t going to be held liable for climate catastrophes in the developing world.

U.S. and other rich countries also resisted demands to put down firm commitments on how they plan to fulfill a pledge to scale up climate financing to developing countries to $100 billion by 2020.

That money is meant to help developing countries transition to cleaner energy sources and adapt to shifts in climate that can affect agriculture, human health and economies in general.

“I think we had a good outcome in the end. It was quite a tough negotiation,” U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern said.

The U.N. climate talks were launched two decades ago after scientists warned that humans were warming the planet by pumping CO2 and other heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, primarily through the burning of fossil fuels. So far they’ve failed to reduce those emissions.

Historically, most emissions have come from the industrialized nations, but the developing world is catching up fast, driven by rapid growth in major countries including India, Brazil and China — the world’s top carbon polluter.

Though China has invested heavily in renewable sources it’s reluctant to promise emissions cuts internationally because it still gets almost 70 percent of its energy from coal, which produces the highest emissions of all fuels.

The talks were paralyzed for hours until China and India dropped demands for a reference to an article in the 1992 U.N. convention on climate change that says only developed countries are required to make commitments to cut emissions.

Western countries want to get rid of that “firewall” in the new climate deal, which countries have agreed should be applicable to all.

“In my understanding the firewall exists and it will continue to exist,” Indian Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan said, indicating the issue is far from resolved.

The Warsaw conference called on parties to announce their offers to rein in or cut emissions by the first quarter of 2015 if they are “in a position to do so.” But it gave little detail on what kind of information should go into those offers.

“Unfortunately, they failed to agree on what process and criteria they would use to evaluate the adequacy and fairness of each other’s proposed actions,” said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

It also remains unclear what legal form the agreement should take.

Environmental activists, many of whom walked out of the talks in protest last week, called the conference a failure for failing to deliver strong commitments to address climate change, and pointed to Typhoon Haiyan’s devastation in the Philippines as a sign of urgency.

A single typhoon or hurricane cannot be conclusively linked to climate change but rising sea levels can make storm surges stronger.

“Negotiators in Warsaw should have used this meeting to take a big and critical step towards global, just action on climate change. That didn’t happen,” said Samantha Smith, a climate activist at the World Wildlife Fund. “This has placed the negotiations towards a global agreement in 2015 at risk.”