No profit, no pipeline: Fighting DAPL with a carbon fee

No profit, no pipeline: Fighting DAPL with a carbon fee

By Flannery Winchester

Environmentalists celebrated when, last fall, President Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline. But America’s dependence on oil means the pipeline fight is far from over — the front lines have simply moved to a new project called the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The Dakota Access Pipeline is planned to be 1,172 miles long, just seven miles shorter than the Keystone XL Pipeline would have been. It would carry Bakken crude oil, a particularly flammable type of oil, across 50 counties across North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois. It would also cross the Missouri River and one of its tributaries, the Big Sioux River, potentially putting the whole watershed at risk in the event of an oil spill. (Like when 1 million gallons of crude oil were spilled in the Kalamazoo River. Or when tens of thousands of gallons leaked into the Yellowstone River, not once, but twice. Or when oil and chemicals contaminated Canada’s North Saskatchewan River just last month… You get the picture.)

Immediate and long-term threats 

Route of DAPL Pipeline

Route of DAPL Pipeline

Energy Transfer’s website tries to address those safety concerns by citing the Department of Transportation that “pipelines are the safest, most efficient method of transporting oil.” But here, they’ve revealed that they can’t see the forest for the trees. They don’t realize that no matter how “safely” you transport oil, the danger waiting at the end of the pipeline is increased greenhouse gas emissions and an even more unstable climate.

That’s ultimately one of the reasons President Obama and his State Department rejected the Keystone XL pipeline. “America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change,” he said in his remarks last fall. “And frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership.” He knew, as more and more Americans are coming to understand, that investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure is wildly inappropriate in the face of climate change. He also rejected the project thanks to the huge public outcry against it — which, in this case, is gathering steam again.

Meet the protectors

When the Dakota Access Pipeline was first set in motion in April, 200 members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe set up camp on the riverbank in protest. The tribe was petitioning for an environmental impact study into the pipeline, which had not been conducted.

Despite the protests and formal legal challenges to the project, Energy Transfer recently broke ground and started construction on the DAPL. In response, the camp has swelled as hundreds more people arrive from other Native American nations, joined by allies like actress Shailene Woodley and supported on social media by Bill McKibben, Josh Fox, Susan Sarandon and other non-native activists. A wide range of media, from the BBC to Buzzfeed, has begun to pay closer attention.

The protests have succeeded in halting construction at that location for the time being — and on August 24, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s injunction will be heard in a Washington D.C. court, possibly halting construction for much longer.

Stop pipelines by pricing carbon

For immediate support, you can amplify their message by sharing and supporting posts from the camp’s Facebook page or the #NoDAPL hashtag on Twitter. If you’re in the DC area, you could join this rally in support. But long term, help for these efforts is going to take something more systemic. We can’t keep playing environmental whack-a-mole, mobilizing in protest every time another new pipeline pops up. We have to dissuade oil companies earlier by making their costs higher than the benefits.

How? By putting a price on carbon.

“A carbon fee would affect fossil fuel infrastructure projects, including oil pipelines like the DAPL, by shrinking and eventually completely drying up demand for their products,” said Charles Komanoff, director of the Carbon Tax Center. Citizen’s Climate Lobby is working to do that through Carbon Fee and Dividend legislation. Here’s how it works: Congress will pass a bill imposing a steadily increasing fee on fossil fuels based on the amount of greenhouse gases they release into the atmosphere. The companies extracting the fossil fuels will pay the fee at the point of extraction, and the revenue from the fee minus administrative costs will go straight back to American households each month.

In addition to giving American families a chunk of extra cash, a carbon fee will make fossil fuel companies account for the true cost of their activities and discourage them from continuing to extract and burn fossil fuels. Basically, they’ll be forced to think twice before they build a pipeline to carry 470,000 barrels of oil every day, as DAPL would. Komanoff said, “Every increase in the carbon fee means decreasing demand for oil and, as a consequence, more and more fossil fuel projects failing to ‘pencil out’ or show a profit.”

And we all know what that means — no profit, no pipeline.

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Flannery Winchester
Flannery Winchester has put her words to work for magazines, for marketing agencies, and now for our earth as CCL's Communications Director. She is grateful to spend every day working to preserve this beautiful planet.