I'm not a particularly superstitious individual. I step on cracks and walk under ladders with abandon, even on Friday the 13th. My roommate is a black cat, and the only misfortune that has befallen me in crossing its path is occasionally tripping over its usually-comotose body.
But I have to tell you, I have a queasy feeling about this Bakken Pipeline business.
Sounds like the State has gone ahead and said it's now okay to run the pipeline through ancient native American burial grounds.
Haven't you people seen the movie Jeremiah Johnson?
I wouldn't want to be the guy who says its not a problem to plow through sacred Lakota graves. That's some got bad juju written all over it.
It's hardly a shocker that the state would side with a wealthy Texas corporation over its own native American citizens.
The people who lead this state would sell their own grandmothers' bones if it meant getting their hands on any new stream of tax money and being able to make a dubious claim of job creation.
Wasn't it clear from the beginning that the pipeline was going to be pushed through? The company knew it - long before the utilities board had ever ruled, it was stockpiling pipe in Iowa and scheduling its work start dates. It didn't matter what people opposing the project said, it was just a polite pretense to let them get their feelings off their chest before the project was given the go-ahead.
Governor Branstad said nothing about the pipeline throughout, which is the same as saying everything.
Money talks. Louder than personal property freedom, louder than the environment, public land rights, and protecting our rivers. And, a whole lot louder than the spirits of the ancients.
Never mind that the oil really doesn't stand to do much for Iowa, we're just the naive pathway to get it from the Dakota oil fields to an oil depot in Illinois. Is it going to make us independent of energy from the Middle East, or make our pump prices markedly lower? Do we even know that the oil will even be consumed in this country? Is the profit staying in our state, which is absorbing the risk? And why was that LLC set up for this pipeline specifically... is it so that the parent company can get away harmless if there's a disaster?
Do I believe that ancient warriors will smite the state government for disturbing their eternal rest? Not exactly.
But what could bite them is an attitude. To sweep people's opinions and rights under the rug if the money's right from an out-of-state corporation. It's not a wise idea to treat people as if their beliefs and concerns don't matter.
It's not a wise idea to pretend that nothing can ever go wrong with hundreds of miles of oil system, running under oil beds, farmland and streams. That oil fields never go dry, and that corporations never get swallowed up, be mismanaged, or go belly up. Remember the corporation that was going to build those condos in Storm Lake? Even if you're betting that you are safely out of elected office before any of that could possibly happen.
Ultimately, perhaps an even greater risk is the way we have defined eminent domain here. We're tiptoeing on dangerous ground, and I don't mean graveyards.
This oil company is not a utility, it is not a road or a sewer that benefits all, it is not a public purpose. It is plain and simple a private for-profit corporation, being invited to forcibly seize access to people's personal property. Even if it is only a small percentage who don't want a pipeline on their land, the precedent we are setting is that a large company that wants your land, and is willing to wave enough money under the state's nose, takes what they want whether you like it or you don't.
When the burial grounds were located, I got on the horn to some to Lakota protesters, to try to understand their emotions.
One of them told me that in a great many native American societies, there is a common tradition that a giant black snake stretching across their ancestral land would be the sign of the beginning of the end of their free, natural world. In their minds, the pipeline is that snake first predicted centuries ago.
I'm not a superstitious guy, and the only curses I believe in are the vocabulary I used after tripping over the cat in the dark.
But real or metaphorical, if there's an Anaconda on the loose in your back yard, you probably want to keep a close eye on it.
Splitting opinion of the people, taking away property rights, forcing century farmers to go to court to protect their own land, allowing private developers to use public preserve land with our own DOT tearing out the trees for them, boring under major river tributaries, and now tunneling through historical/cultural sacred ground... the juju is getting deeper by the moment.