What is the federal government’s role in The Dakota Pipeline project?

Question of the Week:

The Dakota Pipeline has been garnering national attention for the economic and environmental effects of the pipeline itself, as well as the reaction of the Sioux tribe and the police’s response to protesters. What role should the federal government be playing in this controversial project?

Luke Frigon ’18 – Gettysburg College Democrats

The Dakota Access Pipeline is a clear infringement on the rights of Native Americans. It is not only a complete disregard of the land rights of Native people, but come with a risk of a potential rupture and spill which could contaminate the environment and the drinking water of the Sioux Nation’s people. The original route of the pipeline laid out by Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) ran through Bismarck (North Dakota’s state capital), but the people of Bismarck objected since a rupture in the pipeline could easily contaminate the Missouri River and make Bismarck’s drinking water unsafe to consume. ETP and the Army Corps of Engineers then planned on running the pipeline dangerously close to the drinking water of the Sioux people, but are ignoring their pleas for a halt on construction despite the very same objections being made. The United Nations is now investigating the area after claims of human rights violations surfaced. Peaceful protestors are being pepper-sprayed, tear gassed, and attacked by dogs. Just last week journalist Erin Schrode was shot by police. So what can the Federal Government do? Just this past Tuesday, President Obama told an interviewer that the Army Corps of Engineers was looking for a more suitable route for the pipeline that would divert it away from native lands and water supply. He called into question the viability of such a pipeline in an era of falling oil prices. The Federal Government needs to cut US dependency on crude oil. We need to heavily invest in cleaner energy like wind and solar power. If we had done so years ago, the DAPL controversy wouldn’t exist today.

Alex Engelsman ’18 and Danielle Jones ’18 – Gettysburg College Independents

There are certainly valid points on both sides of the issue. Here however, we will take the stance that the federal government does have the right to become involved. The states are responsible for crafting business deals and this specific instance involves local Native American tribes. Tribes are normally recognized and overseen by the federal Department of the Interior and it is this relationship that I believe gives the federal government the right to put a hand in this issue.

The question then becomes what should the federal government do? What can it do? First, it can and should investigate the local authorities to make sure no suspension of rights has occurred. The United Nations has now sent observers to the location, and if the UN is watching, the United States should be too.

Second, the federal government should be making sure no federal laws were broken in the creation and moving of the planned pipeline. In short, the federal government’s role in this should be like its role in everything else: to ensure that a fair and equal society exists, where all Americans follow the law.

Chris Condon ’19 – Young Americans for Liberty 

Supporting the free exchange of goods between people, we, as the Young Americans for Liberty, believe that the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline should be permitted by the Federal Government. That being said, the Federal Government does have the legal right to regulate and/or restrict the construction of said pipeline under Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, the Commerce Clause. This enumerated power reads: “[Congress shall have the power] to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.”

Regardless, we believe in the power of the free market over that of the federal government. Although we do concede that some environmental checks must be put in place by the government, the construction of this pipeline will no doubt create jobs and decrease our dependence of foreign energy sources. Since the pipeline will be built on private land, has been reviewed by the Army Corps of Engineers, and has not been struck down by any court, the economic benefit of the pipeline should not be infringed upon by interference on the part of Congress or the Executive branch.

In sum, although this is an emotional issue on both sides and the Federal government has the legal justification to intervene, we do not believe it would be wise on their part to restrict this development.


The views and opinions expressed are the students and the organizations whom they represent and do not necessarily represent the views of The Eisenhower Institute or Gettysburg College.