Girardi | Keese

Energy at Any Cost? The Standing Rock Sioux Say No

From Hinkley to North Dakota: When will the environment start to matter?

When Pacific Gas and Electric Company polluted the groundwater of Hinkley, Calif., in the 1950s and 1960s, people suffered greatly for decades. Cancer and other serious ailments afflicted Hinkley residents. Many were sickened, and some lost their lives, from the cancer-causing agent chromium-6, used as part of PG&E's natural gas pipeline project.

It came to be known colloquially as the Erin Brockovich case (popularized by the movie of the same name), after the consumer activist who rallied for the residents of Hinkley. The case illustrates why it's so important to protect our environment.

And this is not just a "tree-hugging" notion to dismiss out of hand.

When the environment suffers, people suffer, too.

This notion runs through the protests waged now by the Standing Rock Sioux in North Dakota against Energy Transfer Partners, the Dallas-based company working to construct a pipeline through sacred Native American land, including the Missouri River and Cannon Ball River.

Despite the claims of Energy Transfer Partners that the environmental concerns are "unfounded," as Reuters reports, the Standing Rock Sioux - as well as hundreds of other Native American tribes throughout the country - seem just as "committed" to stopping pipeline construction as the company is in completing it.

After all, oil spills and pipeline explosions are a regular part of the news cycle.

Even though the Erin Brockovich case involved a different place, time, and people, it too involved environmental damage caused by the very same industry that appears to pursue profit at seemingly any cost.

The Standing Rock Sioux have won - for now.

The Obama administration has issued an order halting construction on federal land, following a recent court ruling that denied the tribe's request to stop construction. It has also asked Energy Transfer Partners to stop construction on private land.

But the question remains: Is environmental harm, and its potential fallout, like the fallout in Hinkley many years ago, a reasonable cost to pay for shipping crude oil directly from the Bakken shale through a 1,000+ mile pipeline to the Gulf?

The Standing Rock Sioux would say no. So might the people of Hinkley.

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