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The fight to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) wages on. Just this week law enforcement used tear gas and fired bean-bag rounds to disperse crowds and arrested nearly 40 people since Monday, the Billings Gazette reported. One Water Protector appears to have suffered a nasty wound in his leg after an alleged confrontation with an officer on Thursday (warning, the photo is graphic).
But that's not the only concerning news story developing around the controversial project.
1. National Guard Deploys "Observational" Missile Launchers
The non-violent protests that kicked off in the Spring have been marked by increasingly violent showdowns between the Standing Rock Sioux and their fellow Water Protectors versus militarized law enforcement.
On Tuesday, reports emerged that the North Dakota National Guard had sent two Avenger missile launchers near a critical work site near the pipeline. National Guard spokesman William Prokopyk told the Daily Beast the missiles were unloaded and had no authorization to be loaded. The Morton County Sheriff's Department also confirmed these missiles in a Facebook post, saying they were "strictly for observation of ungoverned encampments to help protect private property and maintain public safety."
The Daily Beast notes that the Avenger is "foremost a weapon of war" that "combines a Humvee truck chassis with a rotating turret that can be armed with eight Stinger missiles and a .50-caliber machine gun."
2. North Dakota Bill Would Protect Motorists Who "Unintentionally Cause Injury or Death" to Protestors
State Rep. Keith Kempenich has introduced a bill that says a driver "who unintentionally causes injury or death to an individual obstructing vehicular traffic on a public road, street, or highway, is not guilty of an offense."
Kempenich's said the bill is the result of his mother-in-law being inconvenienced while driving through protests. Apparently, she was driving past a long line of cars parked along shoulder of the road when a protester jumped in front of her car waving a sign.
"There's a line between protesting and terrorism, and what we're dealing with was terrorism out there," Kempenich told The Washington Post. "[Drivers] who were legally doing their business or just going home and all of a sudden they're in a situation they don't want to be in."
3. DAPL Company Tried to Block Environmental Study
While the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied a key easement in December for the pipeline to travel under Lake Oahe and recently announced plans to prepare a full environmental impact study on the Oahe crossing that could take two years to complete, the company building the $3.8 billion project is determined to finish it.
On Jan. 17, Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners asked U.S. District Judge James Boasberg to stop the corps from publishing a notice announcing the study in the Federal Register.
The Bismarck Tribune reported:
ETP wants any further study put on hold until Boasberg, in Washington, D.C., rules on whether ETP already has the necessary permission to lay pipe under Lake Oahe—the reservoir that's the water source for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.
ETP wants to block further study so that the decision on the permitting, which is likely weeks away, will be "free from the risk that its ruling will be frustrated or thwarted by new governmental actions." The corps did not immediately respond to ETP's request.
4. Company Engaged in Deceit and Fraud in Acquiring Land Easements, Lawsuit Claims
Some two dozen landowners in Morton County, North Dakota, have filed a lawsuit this month in U.S. District Court against Dakota Access. The group seeks more than $4 million in damages.
The Associated Press writes:
Those suing say Dakota Access engaged in unfair tactics and fraud while negotiating to lay pipeline on private land, resulting in compensation that was as much as nine times lower than what other landowners got. Landowners also allege they were told if they didn't agree to the offered amount, they faced losing money or getting nothing either because their land would be condemned through eminent domain or the pipeline would be moved elsewhere.
"Dakota Access's representations to the Morton County landowners were false representations and deceptive," the lawsuit states. The company has until about the end of the month to file its response in court.
Energy Transfer Partners contends the allegations "are without merit," company spokeswoman Vicki Granado said, adding that the landowners who are suing represent only about 3 percent of the 800 North Dakota landowners who provided easements to Dakota Access.
5. DAPL Likely Rolling Full Speed Ahead Under President Trump
Donald Trump, who has personal investments in the DAPL, has formally announced his support of the project. Some of his main priorities after being sworn in on Jan. 20 are, according to Bloomberg, "nullifying President Barack Obama's guidelines that federal agencies weigh climate change when approving pipelines, deciding what areas to open for drilling or taking other major actions, two people familiar with Trump's transition planning say."
Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, also told NPR that the Trump administration could give a green light to energy infrastructure projects blocked by Obama's executive actions.
"Things like Keystone XL pipeline, Dakota Access pipeline," Gerard said, "we expect he'll take some early action on a variety of those fronts to really free us up and allow us to achieve our energy potential."
Water Protectors at the protest campsite have noticed desperation and declining morale due to the new Republican president, according to Billings Gazette. As one demonstrator told the publication, "There's a very real possibility that once the new president is inaugurated, our voices won't matter."
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Talk is cheap, says the acting executive secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, who begged governments around the world to make sure that 2020 is not another year of conferences and empty promises, but instead is the year to take decisive action to stop the mass extinction of wildlife and the destruction of habitat-sustaining ecosystems, as The Guardian reported.