The incoming Republican-controlled Senate has named John Hoeven, a staunch proponent of the highly controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, as the new chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.
“I am honored to serve as the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and look forward to working… to pass legislation that helps improve the lives of people across Indian Country,” the former North Dakota governor and the state’s current senior US senator said in a statement. “We will address the issues of job creation, natural resource management, health care, education, public safety and housing in Indian communities, [and] we will also make it a priority to promote economic growth.”
According to the committee’s website, its mission is “to study the unique problems of American Indian, Native Hawaiian, and Alaska Native peoples and to propose legislation to alleviate these difficulties,” including “education, economic development, land management, trust responsibilities, health care, and claims against the United States.”
However, as Mic notes, Hoeven is a vocal supporter of both the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines. Keystone XL, which would transport tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to refineries on the US Gulf Coast, is opposed by leading Native American and environmental groups because it would transport what the National Congress of American Indians calls “the world’s dirtiest and most environmentally destructive form of oil.” The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) last year became the subject of intense opposition for first the Standing Rock Sioux and then indigenous, environmental and social justice groups around the world who warn the pipeline threatens the region’s fresh water supply, desecrates sacred burial grounds, violates Native American treaty rights and, perhaps most importantly, fuels global warming.
As thousands of #NoDAPL protesters gathered in Cannon Ball, North Dakota last year to stand with Standing Rock and block work on the pipeline, Hoeven positioned himself squarely in opposition to the movement, calling the overwhelmingly peaceful water protectors “violent” while failing to condemn the violence being used to defeat the demonstrators. Native Americans and their allies were beaten, shot with “less lethal” projectiles that resulted in horrific injuries and mauled with dogs — images of an attack dog with blood dripping from its teeth and snout shocked the conscience of the world and helped galvanize opposition to the pipeline.
However, Hoeven has stood behind the pipeline and its owner, Energy Transfer Partners, a company in which President-elect Donald Trump has invested as much as $1 million. Hoeven called on President Barack Obama to deploy federal law enforcement forces to put down the #NoDAPL protests.
“We recommend you provide federal law enforcement resources immediately to state and local agencies in order to maintain public safety, which has been threatened by ongoing — and oftentimes violent — protest activity,” Hoeven and Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) wrote in a November 23 letter to Obama, according to the Huffington Post.
Last month, the Army Corps of Engineers announced it would not grant an easement under Lake Oahe for the pipeline to cross the Missouri River just upstream from the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, disappointing Hoeven and other DAPL supporters but elating opponents of the project. Among the latter is Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), the newly-appointed vice-chair of the Indian Affairs Committee. “Over the last seven months, thousands of people, including Indian nations from New Mexico and across North America, have demonstrated their deep concern about the lack of consultation by the federal government and the potential environmental hazard this pipeline poses for the water,” Udall said in a statement applauding the Army Corps of Engineers’ decision.
The pipeline’s future remains uncertain, although Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren, who according to Democracy Now! donated more than $167,000 to Trump and the Republican National Committee (RNC), told CBS News following Trump’s November victory he is “100 percent” confident the project will be completed. President-elect Donald Trump said last month he supports completing the pipeline, with his transition team stating this “has nothing to do with [Trump’s] personal investments and everything to do with promoting policies that benefit all Americans.”
Pipeline proponents argue DAPL would have obvious economic benefits and would dramatically reduce crude oil shipments by rail, reducing horrific accidents like the July 6, 2013 Lac-Mégantic derailment in Quebec, Canada that killed 47 people. However, while the US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) found there were twice as many oil train accidents as incidents involving pipelines from 2004 to 2012, the pipelines spilled three times as much oil as the trains.
In addition to DAPL, Sen. Hoeven made headlines in Indian Country and beyond last year by sponsoring, along with Rep. Cramer, the Native American Children’s Safety Act, which was signed into law by President Obama last June and requires background checks to be conducted on all adults living in a potential foster home before a Native American tribal court can place a child in that home.