February 14, 2002

Concensus Needed to Determine Global Impact


Keywords: environment global impact Dakota Minnesota and Eastern Railroad Surface Transportation Board Powder River Basin in Wyoming Great Sioux Nation Treaty land Cheyenne River Valley air pollution Pine Ridge Reservation Rosebud Reservation South Dakota Oglala people

Author: Charmaine White Face

‘Nearly Universal Opposition’ was one of the headlines in a newspaper describing the people’s response from three states to the prospect of a railroad being rebuilt over 600 miles, and adding 280 miles of new railroad track into pristine prairie land.

From Winona on the Mississippi River in Minnesota, through the entire state of South Dakota, to remote ranches in northeastern Wyoming, the opposition to this railroad has joined doctors, lawyers, ranchers, environmentalists, and Indian chiefs into one voice.

Yet, the federal government, through two people sitting as the Surface Transportation Board, has chosen not to hear that voice.

The Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern Railroad over four years ago applied for a permit from the STB to haul coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming to power plants in the East. Not only is mining, hauling, and burning coal a dirty business, but other ‘dirty deeds’ of the DM&E include:

*building their existing and planned track on Great Sioux Nation Treaty land, which also includes the coal area currently being mined in Wyoming;

*being on the verge of bankruptcy so they decide to expand their business hoping to increase their profits;

*building their track in western South Dakota on slippery shale so it needs almost constant repair;

*planning on building in the Cheyenne River Valley, home to bald eagles, and otherthreatened or endangered species;

*having a known record of destroying prehistoric Native American sites;

*and planning on building their new track through the last of the pristine prairie areas in the United States.

A few of the consequences of the track will be:

*major air pollution with the proposed burning of the coal to the tune equal to one percent of the total global emission of carbon dioxide(!);

*hazardous materials handling training on the Pine Ridge Reservation; (Why? What will be the backhaul in those empty coal trains that will require hazardous material handling training? Why only in Pine Ridge? What if a train tips over in another place or city?)

*destruction of the migratory path of the pronghorn antelope from the prairies to the Black Hills, and destruction of other threatened and endangered species habitat;

*increased acid rain in the southern Black Hills, Badlands National Park, spreading across the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations.

The Surface Transportation Board, made up of two people, Linda J. Morgan and Wayne O. Burkes, is supposed to have received all of this information.

Many hearings were held along the proposed route with a special three day hearing held on the Rosebud Reservation in south central South Dakota.

Evidently the STB did hear but chose instead to require 147 different kinds of mitigation measures to address the environmental impacts. These measures alone will cost about $170 million dollars.

The DM&E, however, has an answer to everything. Admitting that it will cost $1.5 billion to carry out this grand scheme, they are saying they will have partners. Now, why weren’t we told this in the beginning?

There is also the possibility of selling the entire railroad to Union Pacific or the Canadian Pacific Ltd. Railroads. We don’t know anything about those Railroad companies. Do they destroy Native American sites? Do they violate treaties?

When I was a young person, I was privileged to attend meetings where the elders talked for days about something of major importance to the Oglala people before arriving at a consensus.

The discussions continued until everyone agreed. This required that everyone be given the opportunity to completely explain their position.

After much discussion and prayers, some compromises might have had to take place, or they started all over to look at it from another angle in case they missed something. The discussions went on for days.

The time was taken because major decisions that would cause grave impacts required the input and agreement of all the people. It was called consensus.

Not so, the American system. [I won’t even mention the Florida affair.] The American system, with its checks and balances of public hearings and studies, has allowed a Board of two people to make the final decision on a project that will have global impact. (I wonder if those two people ever heard the term ˜global warming”?)

Did Lakota people speak up? Yes, a resounding yes! In this American system, (which we know has never listened to us Indian people anyway) we tried to follow the process that other American citizens follow.

We thought that our voices and concerns would help the decision be for sanity and survival. It wasn’t. This American way of letting two people decide the fate of the planet is far beyond my level of understanding.

Can the American Congress do something? Why not? Minnesota’s Senator Mark Dayton has said he is against this project. Congress will soon be talking about a new energy bill.

We need to demand that Congress stop this railroad and the certain destruction of the atmosphere. We have so much wind and sun in Minnesota, South Dakota, and Wyoming that it could bypass any energy extracted from burning coal.

Write to Sen. Dayton at United States Senate, Washington, DC, 20510. Call him at 202-224-3244.

Or do you think it is acceptable for two people to decide the fate of the planet?


Charmaine White Face, Zumila Wobaga, a member of the Oglala Lakota band of the Tetuwin Oceti Sakowin, is an author, and grandmother. E-mail may be sent to or mail sent to PO Box 140, Manderson, SD 57756

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