Tribal leader irked by state deal with Dakota Access builder

The leader of the Standing Rock Sioux and an attorney for private North Dakota landowners believe the builder of the Dakota Access pipeline got off too lightly when it settled allegations by state regulators that it violated rules during construction.

North Dakota's Public Service Commission, which could have fined Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners hundreds of thousands of dollars but didn't, has defended the agreement, saying its provisions are more meaningful than a fine. ETP says the agreement proves the company is a good corporate citizen.

The PSC last year accused Energy Transfer Partners of not reporting to regulators the discovery of American Indian artifacts, which were not disturbed. The commission also was investigating whether crews removed too many trees and mishandled soil while laying pipe.

The agreement approved last week calls for ETP to help develop and promote an industry manual for handling artifacts discoveries, to plant many more trees along the pipeline route than the company had proposed, and to address any landowner concerns about soil remediation.

ETP is not required to admit any liability, which irks Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault, who believes the state is allowing the company to "fool everybody."

"The costs of their unlawful behavior, their unjust behavior, are insignificant compared to what their gains are going to be" from the $3.8 billion pipeline, he said. The pipeline began moving North Dakota oil through South Dakota and Iowa to a distribution point in Illinois on June 1.

Private landowners' attorney Derrick Braaten said a fine might have sent a better message about following state rules. He said he's "nervous about the message this sends to other applicants, particularly because I have landowners with interests in lands affected by other pipelines with siting applications before the PSC."

The settlement came after weeks of private negotiations and no public hearings.

"This is all disturbing to me," Archambault said. "It seems like when the tribes speak, nobody listens, but when somebody else says something, the state listens."

Commissioner Brian Kroshus has estimated it will cost ETP more than $100,000 to meet the terms of the settlement. Commissioner Julie Fedorchak said after the commission approved the deal that "We weren't looking for the death penalty here. We wanted to hold the company responsible for fulfilling their obligations and commitments to the citizens."

ETP spokeswoman Lisa Dillinger said the agreement is evidence that the company strives to be "a valued member of the communities through which we pass and a good business partner with the state." She said the company also has donated $20,000 to the State Historical Society of North Dakota Foundation for technology upgrades. That was not part of the settlement terms.


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