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McFeely: What do DAPL zealots think about the rule of law now?

Mike McFeely, Oct. 17, 2015Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

The kerfuffle over the Dakota Access Pipeline was all about the "rule of law" we were told. The U.S. is a nation of laws, and if those laws aren't followed we aren't anything more than a banana republic, we were told.

Oh, the good old days of demonizing anybody who thought perhaps the folks building the pipeline and the North Dakota government were complicit with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in rushing to get the DAPL completed before all the T's were crossed and I's were dotted.

Of course, it was easy then because Kenyan-born Muslim Barack Obama was president and when he halted work on the pipeline to ask for further study of some key issues, spouting about the rule of law played into the narrative perfectly. Obama was out of control, using his executive powers as a dictator would and, by golly, he had to be stopped.

Then-Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley, who desperately wants to be North Dakota's next U.S. Attorney to save himself from a life of boredom working in hospital administration for a pile of money, was crisscrossing the state telling every media outlet that would listen about the "unlawful protests" and "life-threatening federal crimes" occurring at the DAPL protest camp. His job as Gov. Jack Dalrymple's attack dog was to paint the protesters and anti-DAPL crowd as criminals.

The rule of law—lawfulness—is what DAPL was all about.

So when the pro-DAPL's hero, Donald Trump, was elected president to Make America Love Fossil Fuels Again, it was seen as a major victory for the rule of law. Trump quickly erased Obama's ruling and ordered the Corps to approve the pipeline ASAP. In a recent speech, Trump bragged about how he "closed my eyes and said: Do it."

Turns out that maybe closing one's eyes isn't the best way to make legally sound decisions.

A federal judge last week ruled in favor of the Standing Rock Sioux, saying the Corps failed to adequately consider the impact of an oil spill or "the degree to which the pipeline's effects are likely to be highly controversial."

It was a narrow victory for the tribe and, admittedly, one without much teeth for now. U.S. District Judge James Boasberg said the Corps mostly complied with federal environmental policy, but was lax in a few areas. Boasberg did not order the pipeline to be shut down, which he has the power to do. That option still exists, however, and the judge could exercise it after hearing more from both parties.

It will be interesting to see how the fervently pro-DAPL crowd reacts and whether they'll applaud the judge if he shuts down the pipeline, even temporarily, on the basis of the Corps not properly following regulatory policy. More likely, they'll complain about the policy being cumbersome and unnecessary.

To be consistent, they should be applauding the rule of law and a judge who sees fit to follow the policies as written. That was their gripe all along, wasn't it?

Mike McFeely
Mike McFeely is a WDAY (970 AM) radio host and a columnist for The Forum. You can respond to Mike's columns by listening to AM-970 from 8:30-11 a.m. weekdays.
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