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Trump vs. Mother Earth: Indigenous Activist Dallas Goldtooth Slams Trump’s Pipeline Executive Orders

Web ExclusiveApril 15, 2019
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President Trump signed two executive orders last week to facilitate the approval of pipeline projects at a federal level, limiting states’ ability to regulate such projects. The move is intended in part to clear the way for permitting on the northeastern Constitution pipeline, which has stalled after New York invoked the Clean Water Act to reject the project on environmental grounds. This comes as climate activists have filed a federal lawsuit challenging three South Dakota laws, including the so-called Riot Boosting Act, that they say targets activists who encourage or organize protests, particularly against the Keystone XL pipeline. The laws give the state the authority to sue any individual or organization for encouraging a protest where acts of violence occur, whether or not the individual was involved in or had knowledge of the violent act. Organizers also can face criminal penalties of up to 25 years in prison. The ACLU, which filed the lawsuit, asserts the laws violate First Amendment rights. We speak to Dallas Goldtooth, organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network. He is also one of the plaintiffs in the ACLU lawsuit.

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: President Trump signed two executive orders Wednesday to facilitate the approval of pipeline projects at a federal level, limiting states’ ability to regulate such projects. The move is intended in part to clear the way for permitting on the northeastern Constitution pipeline, which has stalled after New York invoked the Clean Water Act to reject the project on environmental grounds. This is Trump speaking on Wednesday from Crosby, Texas, where he signed the orders.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: My first order will speed up the process for approving vital infrastructure on our nation’s borders, such as oil pipelines, roads and railways. It will now take no more than 60 days. That’s a vast improvement. And the president, not the bureaucracy, will have sole authority to make the final decision when we get caught up in problems. We’ll do what’s right.

My second order will modernize regulations for LNG export terminals and encourage new infrastructure financing. It will improve access for workers and operators to maintain electrical lines. And finally, it will stop state-level abuse of water quality certifications—they abuse you; when you’re nowhere near water, they abuse you—from blocking the construction of vital pipeline projects, as we rebuild our energy infrastructure. And it will be like never before.

AMY GOODMAN: This comes as climate activists have filed a federal lawsuit challenging three South Dakota laws, including the so-called Riot Boosting Act they say targets activists who encourage or organize protests, particularly against the Keystone XL pipeline. The laws give the state the authority to sue any individual or group for encouraging a protest where acts of violence occur, whether or not the individual was involved in or had knowledge of the violent act. Organizers also can face criminal penalties of up to 25 years in prison. The ACLU, which filed the lawsuit, asserts the laws violate First Amendment rights.

Well, for more, we’re going to Dallas Goldtooth, organizer with Indigenous Environmental Network, also one of the plaintiffs in the ACLU lawsuit.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Dallas. Thanks for joining us from Pittsburgh. Can you start off by talking about the executive orders that President Trump just signed?

DALLAS GOLDTOOTH: Yeah. Thank you very much, Amy, for having me on and covering this important topic.

You know, what we’re seeing right now with these executive orders is nothing but an act of aggression against the authority for states to protect their homelands or protect the residents of their state and the lands within the borders of those states, mainly targeting the Clean Water Act. Really, what Trump wants to do is take away the states’ abilities to enforce environmental regulations against pipeline projects or other infrastructure, fossil fuel projects, and take and give that power solely to the federal government. You know, this is—it’s kind of absurd that, you know, Trump, being a representative or the figurehead of the Republican Party, is wholeheartedly endorsing an ideology that the federal government has a final say over what happens within the borders of a state and that the state has very little recourse to address these issues. The other—there are just two executive orders, so that was the first one.

The second one really specifically talked—focuses on the cross-border—the border crossing of pipelines. In this regard, we’re talking about Keystone XL. I know Enbridge, Enbridge Line 3, was also one of those pipelines that had to deal with crossing the border from Canada to transport tar sands oil. And really what the president is trying to do, and he did this a couple weeks ago by approving Keystone XL a second time, is saying that he, as the president, has the sole power to approve these projects, and is encouraging the State Department to say—to act only as advisers to the president to sign these projects.

And there’s something really—something really insidious and dangerous about this, that is just a part, a continuing part, of Trump’s legacy for overreaching his executive powers, is that the president has stated that because he is the president, he is not a federal agency, therefore he’s not beholden to any environmental regulations that federal agencies have to follow, in particular the National Environmental Protection Act, parts of the Clean Water Act. You know, he’s saying that, “As the president, I actually am—I don’t have to follow those, because I’m not a federal agency.” And that’s very, very dangerous precedent to start here, especially as we look towards a rapid expansion of fossil fuel development in this country at this current moment and what we’re trying to fight against in the protection of Mother Earth and the sacredness of the land itself.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Dallas Goldtooth, could you talk about, in fact, some of the efforts that states have been making to resist, block these pipelines, in Pennsylvania, for example, and elsewhere?

DALLAS GOLDTOOTH: Yeah. Over the past decade, we’ve seen a lot of states become more aware about the dangers of fossil fuel infrastructure projects and the risks that they pose to drinking water and to clean air. I think, on the big picture, we’re seeing a greater understanding about how these projects lock us into more fossil fuel development, and therefore add to the climate chaos that we’re seeing with the increase of greenhouse gas emissions. And so you’re seeing some states, like Pennsylvania or even New York, who are taking steps to address that by putting moratoriums on fracking development or having a more stringent process or a more stringent evaluation of pipeline projects and their impacts, whether it’s very specific or cumulative impacts on climate overall. And one of those examples that the president has referenced specifically is how New York state has used the Clean Water Act to to halt the continuation of the Constitution pipeline in that area.

On the flip side, we’re also seeing states who are trying their very hardest to increase fossil fuel development in their areas. And one way that they’re doing that is to suppress the ability for common, everyday citizens to publicly protest against them or to use their First Amendment rights to speak out against these projects’ impacts on their communities.

AMY GOODMAN: Last month, the Rainforest Action Network, along with a coalition of environmental groups, including your group, the Indigenous Environmental Network, released its annual fossil fuel finance report card called “Banking on Climate Change.” The report showed that 33 of the world’s largest banks have financed $1.9 trillion into fossil fuels since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2016. Michigan Democratic Congressmember Rashida Tlaib referenced the report as she questioned CEOs from the nation’s largest banks Wednesday at a congressional hearing called “Holding Megabanks Accountable.”

REP. RASHIDA TLAIB: A report released two weeks ago shows that fossil fuel lending and underwriting is dominated by big U.S. banks, four of which are sitting right here in front of us. Chase, Wells Fargo, Citi, as well as Bank of America are top four banks in the world financing fossil fuel industry. Mr. Dimon, your bank alone has provided more than $195 billion in fossil fuel lending and underwriting over the past three years, since signing of the Paris climate agreement, making your bank the number one funder of fossil fuels in the world. Citi, Mr Corbat, has provided more than $129 billion in fossil fuel funding over the past three years, number three in the world. Mr Moynihan, Bank of America has provided more than $106 billion in fossil fuel funding over the past three years, making it number four in the world.

I want folks—don’t say that you’re committed to clean and sustainable financing, because your companies’ words are not consistent with your actions. I would call this gaslighting. That’s kind of what we call it in the neighborhood. But for the sake of this hearing, I’ll say that you are greenwashing your own track record in duping the American people into believing that you are helping address climate change. On the record, will any of your banks make a commitment to phase out your investments in fossil fuels and dirty energy and align your investments with the goals of Paris climate agreement, to help protect our planet and communities I grew up in? That goes to all of you, if you guys can answer that. Mr Corbat?

MICHAEL CORBAT: We have—we are in the business of supporting fossil fuel companies, many of which are U.S.-based companies.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Michael L. Corbat, CEO of Citigroup, responding to that question from Michigan Congressmember Rashida Tlaib. Dallas Goldtooth, overall, your response to what she is raising?

DALLAS GOLDTOOTH: You could hear a penny drop in that room when she asked that question. You know, she raised a great point, based on the report that I, again, was a part of. That was the fossil fuel financial report that was put out. You know, at the top of the list—I mean, what that report does is it lists the top banks who are financing fossil fuel production—or, fossil fuel expansion across the globe. And JPMorgan Chase is at the very top of that. Wells Fargo comes in a close second. The top leading banks in the United States are all heavily invested in fossil fuels. And that’s why we are leading a major divestment campaign, to make sure that we are holding these banks accountable, because really, you know, if they’re financing the expansion of these projects and if these projects are making the planet worse off and creating more climate chaos, as well as if these projects are causing human rights violations or indigenous rights violations, as which we saw in Standing Rock with the Dakota Access pipeline or we’re seeing in other places in South America or in Africa, then the banks should be held accountable, because they’re giving money to these corporations to do this. And that’s the whole idea behind it.

Another fact that was brought—some more statistics that were brought up in that hearing relates to a report that was put out by Oil Change International. It says that if nothing—if there’s no change that happens right now over the next 30 years, the U.S. drilling is going to extract over 120 billion tons of carbon, which will have the equivalency of a thousand coal-fired power plants. The United States is leading the charge in creating the climate chaos that we’re seeing across this planet. So we have to hold our institutions, whether it’s the public offices and those that are in those positions or whether it’s the financial institutions, accountable for their contributions to the problem.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Dallas Goldtooth, very quickly, before we conclude, could you talk about the lawsuit that you’re involved with, with a number of—

DALLAS GOLDTOOTH: Yes.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: —different organizations? Explain “riot boosting” laws and what the—what you’re suing about.

DALLAS GOLDTOOTH: Yes. In South Dakota, there is a law that just passed that makes it illegal for people to riot boost. One of the main issues is that there’s no clear definition of what riot boosting is. Effectively, what it means is if a pipeline—if Keystone XL starts being constructed in South Dakota, it’s illegal for me, as somebody that lives outside of South Dakota, to go on Facebook and say, “Hey, there’s a public protest happening on Saturday in Pierre, South Dakota, in your capital. People should go to it.” And should there be a fight that breaks out or something that happens that is determined—as determined as a “riot,” I could be held accountable, and I could actually be sued and fined and actually be charged with a felony, for just suggesting for people to use their First Amendment rights to speak out against this project. And South Dakota just passed this bill. We’re filing this lawsuit against it, on the grounds of a violation of our First Amendment rights. But we’re also seeing similar bills being talked about in other states. In Texas, right now there’s a discussion about a very similar bill, that makes it illegal for people to hold—to protest in public or to encourage people to go out and protest in public, to use our First Amendment rights to advocate for a better world, a better society.

And I think, overall, all this discussion, these laws, this executive order by Trump, the continued financing of fossil fuel projects by the largest banks in the world, from an indigenous perspective, these are direct acts of aggression against the sovereign authority for tribal nations to protect their homelands and their territories from further violation and destruction. And tribal nations are leading the charge to build a better world. And, you know, we’re not used to these acts of aggression. I mean, in my personal opinion, when it comes to Trump and all these other cronies that are part of the fossil fuel regime, we’re dealing with nothing short of the ideological descendants of Custer, whose hubris and shortsightedness is leading us closer and closer to the brink of climate chaos and destruction. And it’s up to Native folks—or, it’s not up to us as Native folks, but we happen to be leading the charge to push back against that. And, you know, we’re going to continue to do that as much as possible. We’re not afraid to use our voice. We’re not afraid to push back. And that’s one of the reasons why the Indigenous Environmental Network is a part of these lawsuits.

AMY GOODMAN: Dallas Goldtooth, a Diné and Dakota organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network. This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Thanks so much for joining us.

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