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Opinion

Standing Rock may be the first battle site in Trump’s war on the environment

Donald Trump leads the cavalry charge at Standing Rock.
Top of the Ticket cartoon
(David Horsey / Los Angeles Times)

The fledgling Trump administration has effectively declared war on environmental protection.

On Tuesday, President Trump signed executive orders that took the first steps toward reversing two Obama administration rulings against oil pipeline projects. One of those rulings, by the State Department, rejected the application for the Keystone XL pipeline that would carry oil from the tar sands of Alberta to refineries and shipping points in the United States. The other ruling, from the Army Corps of Engineers, told owners of the Dakota Access pipeline to come up with alternative routes that would not endanger the water supply of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota.

Trump’s orders, in themselves, did not completely undo the Obama administration’s pipeline decisions, but they are clear indicators that such an outcome is in the works. TransCanada, the Keystone project’s owner, is being asked to resubmit the project application (with the caveat that Trump wants the pipeline built with 100% American steel). Meanwhile, the Army Corps of Engineers is being ordered to “review and approve in an expedited manner” the North Dakota pipeline plan of Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners.

As those two actions made headlines, more reports surfaced about the administration’s Putin-like attempts to muzzle anyone in any government agency who has views on the environment that are out of step with the new regime.

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Even with best-friend-of-the-oil-industry Scott Pruitt not yet confirmed by the Senate as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA employees are feeling the cold hand of the Trump White House covering their mouths. Grants and contracts worth $4 billion that support environmental programs for states, tribes and other entities have been put on hold. EPA employees, as well as scientists, researchers and government workers in other departments who deal with environmental issues — particularly climate change — have been told to make no public statements, put no new content on websites, stay away from social media and submit for review any speaking engagements or contacts with the news media.

When an unidentified person at the Badlands National Park was found to be defiantly tweeting facts about climate change, the posts were quickly removed by enforcers of the ban.

Since Trump’s election, scientists have been scrambling to copy vital climate research onto private servers before the climate change deniers who dominate policy in the new administration can do anything to harm the data. “Something that seemed a little paranoid to me before all of a sudden seems potentially realistic, or at least something you’d want to hedge against,” UC Davis environmental researcher Nick Santos told the Washington Post. “Doing this can only be a good thing. Hopefully they leave everything in place. But if not, we’re planning for that.”

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Trump has been in office less than a week and he is already confirming the worst fears of environmentalists. An overwhelming number of scientific studies indicate that man-made climate change will be an existential threat to humanity if no action is taken to sharply reduce reliance on fossil fuels. President Obama believed the science; Donald Trump and the people he has put in charge of energy and environmental policies do not. It appears obvious that the Trump administration will consistently favor oil, gas and coal interests over citizens who just want clean air and water and a landscape that is not carpeted with drilling rigs and fracking equipment.

Last weekend’s huge women’s marches in cities across the country pulled together people with a variety of concerns, but environmental issues got slight attention. That needs to change because the environment is the one thing we all have in common.

The first place where the environmental battle lines are drawn will very likely be the Standing Rock reservation. Through the summer, fall and into the snow and freezing temperatures of winter, the tribe led anti-pipeline protests that grew dramatically in size and drew international attention to what had been an obscure project. Protesters thought they had won, but now, with a stroke of Trump’s pen, victory has been snatched away. The tribe will take the fight to the courts, but it seems inevitable that there will be another physical confrontation as well. Thousands of people will gather to resist, this time with the weather on their side, the federal government against them and the future in their hands.

The war is on. 

David.Horsey@latimes.com

Follow me at @davidhorsey on Twitter

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