Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and its accompanying protests has been deafening for months.
Thousands of Native Americans along with environmental activists from across the nation and around the world have been attempting to stop the construction of this 1,172-mile-long, $3.78 billion pipeline project ever since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued the project a “fast track” permit in July of this year.
The permit allows for the pipeline to run under the Missouri River just north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, which belongs to the Hunkpapa Lakota and Yanktonai Dakota people. The protestors, who refer to themselves as “water protectors,” believe that the pipeline is a serious threat to the reservation’s water supply.
For the past five months, the tribes, water protectors and environmental groups have been asking Clinton to take a position on the controversial pipeline, preferably a position against it. They have even gone so far as to take over Clinton’s campaign headquarters. Despite this growing outcry, Clinton remained silent, until last week.
Following a violent October 27 confrontation between law enforcement and protestors wherein 141 people were arrested after being pepper-sprayed, shot with bean bags and blasted with high-powered water hoses, the Clinton campaign finally released a statement.
It read, “We received a letter today from representatives of the tribes protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. From the beginning of this campaign, Secretary Clinton has been clear that she thinks all voices should be heard and all views considered in federal infrastructure projects. Now, all of the parties involved — including the federal government, the pipeline company and contractors, the state of North Dakota, and the tribes — need to find a path forward that serves the broadest public interest. As that happens, it’s important that on the ground in North Dakota, everyone respects demonstrators’ rights to protest peacefully, and workers’ rights to do their jobs safely.”
It’s safe to say Clinton’s DAPL statement fell far short of offering the support the tribes had hoped for and left many wondering why Clinton, who often touts her commitment to the environment and the fight against global warming, continues to waffle on DAPL.
But there is likely a reason for her pipeline waffling and it can be found in the recent WikiLeaks dump of emails claimed to be from the account of John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign manager.
According to these Podesta emails, Clinton made a questionable decision to oppose Kinder Morgan’s proposed Northeast Energy Direct (NED) pipeline just prior to the New Hampshire primary. If built, the NED pipeline would transport natural gas some 400 miles through New Hampshire and Massachusetts and it has become a point of contention for New Hampshire residents.
Her primary opponent, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, was strong in his opposition to its construction.
So Clinton, who was trailing Sanders badly in polls leading up to the primary, was apparently feeling the pressure to convert to Sanders’ position. In a move that clearly took her campaign managers and aides by surprise, Clinton responded to a question from a young voter on a rope line by saying she did not support the NED pipeline. Her answer went national and that’s when the manure hit the fan for Nikki Budzinski, the Clinton campaign’s Labor Outreach Director.
According to the emails, Budzinski contacted Podesta, Huma (presumably Abedin) and Robby (presumably Mook) with the following warning on February 9, 2016:
“I wanted to loop us all together on feedback I’ve received from the Building Trades, specifically LIUNA [Laborers’ International Union of North America], with the news yesterday that HRC [Hillary Rodham Clinton] is opposing the NED pipeline in New Hampshire. They are very upset. I expect to hear from the UA [United Association] and IUOE [International Union of Operating Engineers] soon. President O’Sullivan has cancelled his trip to Las Vegas for our strategic planning meeting on Friday and has cancelled his member canvass and rally on Saturday in Las Vegas as well. I reached out this morning offering to have HRC stop by the canvass and meet privately with Terry, and that did not change the situation.”
The email chain makes it clear that the trade unions were very angry over Clinton saying she opposed the NED Pipeline, but why so angry? They apparently had good reason.
The emails go on to explain the motive for the union’s decision to pull its support. “She has privately told the building trades that she does not oppose pipelines. Can we outline instances where a pipeline would have her support? Please note (as you know) the pipeline issue will not go away as they run through many March primary states (Ohio and Virginia, to name two). They are also concerned that she committed to not making pipeline by pipeline decisions and it now appears she is breaking to pressure and doing just that.”
It’s fair to say that Clinton would have had a hard time defeating Sanders for the nomination without the support and endorsement of the trade unions.
The Podesta emails further illustrate the union’s influence over Clinton’s oil and gas pipeline positions.
In an effort to regain union support following Clinton’s NED statement in New Hampshire and the campaign’s belief that it would likely have to take a position against the Keystone XL pipeline for political reasons at some point in the future, the Clinton team went to work on drafting the candidate’s energy platform. They made no secret that making her platform pipeline and oil and gas infrastructure friendly was for the benefit of the unions and therefore a top priority.
The emails describe seven specific points ranging from the creation of “a national infrastructure bank” to a commitment to “modernizing our pipeline system,” which the Clinton camp hoped would please the trade unions and thereby garner their continued support for their candidate. The platform was also long on praise for natural gas development, which the unions had also desired according to the emails.
The WikiLeaks emails explain why Clinton was so careful to say that all voices including “contractors” must be heard in the DAPL dispute and that it’s important that everyone respects “workers’ rights to do their jobs safely.”
Clinton, a politician long known for making her decisions based on political expediency over personal beliefs, is stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to the escalating violence being rained down upon DAPL protestors.
With less than a week until the general election against Republican nominee Donald Trump, Clinton and her team likely believe they can’t afford to anger the unions whose rank and file members are key to the Democratic ground game. This is particularly true now that the race has tightened due to the latest Clinton/Weiner email scandal.
In addition to the trade union pressure on pipelines, Food and Water Watch has reported that the big banks, many of which have bankrolled the Clinton campaign, have put up more than $10 billion for future pipeline construction, including much of the $3.78 billion being used to build DAPL.
All things considered in light of the Podesta emails released by WikiLeaks, Clinton’s previous silence on DAPL and her recent positionless public statement on the situation in North Dakota are actually a clear indication of her true position on the construction of future pipelines in the U.S. It appears she will support them; just as she promised the unions she would do when behind closed doors.