Feds should pick up tab for pipeline protest costs

While experts seem to feel North Dakota has little chance of success in its most recent demand from the federal government, based on legal precedent, ethically the feds should feel compelled to come to an agreement.

Last week, ND demanded $38 million from the federal government to reimburse the state for costs associated with policing large-scale and prolonged protests against the Dakota Access oil pipeline.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem filed an administrative claim against the Army Corps of Engineers, contending the federal agency allowed protesters to illegally camp without a permit between Aug. 10, 2016, and March 31, 2017, on federal land along the Missouri River in southern North Dakota and failed to maintain law and order. Small groups of protesters transformed into entire communities – communities prone to frequent violence, terrorizing nearby residents and leaving the sites environmental disasters. Allegations of rampant crime were also frequent.

The Obama administration’s equivication on the issue of DAPL was a clear encouragement to protest and became a rallying point for anti-fossil fuels and anti-capitalism in general protestors. Protesters often clashed with law enforcement who established their own operations center a short distance away, resulting in 761 arrests from August 2016 to February 2017.

However, it was the subsequent Trump administration that denied Gov. Doug Burgum’s call for a disaster declaration, which would have covered the cost of the protest. (State pleas for the federal government to send law officers during the protests also were rejected.) Trump did greenlight the project’s completion shortly after taking office.

The federal explanation is fuzzy. Feds insist it was a matter of free speech, at the same time limits to protests are routinely limited to location in the name of public safety.

Meanwhile, one expert quoted by Associated Press says the state is in a tough position legally. North Dakota’s case “is a long shot,” according to University of St. Thomas law professor Gregory Sisk, an expert on civil litigation with the federal government. He said typical claims involve such things as a government employee causing damage or injury.

So, while the legal odds seem long, there is also a moral imperative. The federal government exacerbated the situation and refused support when support was needed, walking a thin legal line, morally, it is a challenging argument to make that Washington doesn’t deserve part of the burden of picking up the tab.

Will they?

With today’s federal government, no one can know.