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"Stunning" win at Standing Rock

Posted by Valory Wangler, MD on December 7, 2016

PSR Board Member Dr. David Drake of Iowa visited Standing Rock to deliver supplies.

After months of protests, and after facing plummeting winter temperatures, rubber bullets and attack dogs, the activists and Water Protectors at Standing Rock have achieved a huge victory. On December 4th, the Army Corps of Engineers effectively halted construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline by denying the permit that would have allowed Energy Transfer Partners to drill under the Missouri River.

The Standing Rock protests serve as a stunning example of the power of organizing to call out fossil fuel companies and demand changes that protect both people and the environment. Given the nation's disturbing history of disregard (or worse) for Native Americans, this victory is particularly poignant. Resource-poor communities often suffer the worst impacts of the fossil fuel industry and are predicted to suffer disproportionally from the health impacts of climate change. Standing Rock provides the hope that concerned and vocal citizens can make a difference in the struggle to mitigate climate change.

Over the past few months, PSR physicians have visited Standing Rock, providing medical services and bearing witness to violence inflicted by law enforcement. The Standing Rock working group provided resources to healthcare providers on the ground, composed a letter imploring President Obama to stop the pipeline, and gathered donations that funded two solar powered generator kits to power the Medic and Healer tents at Standing Rock. PSR is proud to stand in solidarity with the Water Protectors at Standing Rock.

Though there is much to be celebrated this week, unfortunately this fight is far from over. Many Water Protectors, unconvinced that the pipeline will truly be rerouted, have vowed to dig in and spend the harsh winter protecting the river. Their skepticism is well-placed. Energy Transfer Partners has stated it will disregard the Army Corps of Engineers and continue to drill. Many suspect that the Army Corps decision will be overturned once the Trump Administration is in office.

Even if the pipeline is truly rerouted away from the water supply and sacred lands of the Standing Rock Sioux, a rerouted pipeline will still be an important addition to oil and gas infrastructure that will impede the critical move away from fossil fuels. Without swift and comprehensive shifts to renewable energy, our health and those of our patients, families, and communities is at ever-increasing risk from the threats of climate change.

Understanding this, we must continue to fight oil and gas infrastructure, as expertly done by many PSR Chapters nationwide, must communicate that no pipeline is a safe pipeline, and must take the many important lessons learned at Standing Rock forward into the many struggles that are certain to follow. If you are interested in working with PSR to help the health voice be loudly heard in future fossil fuel infrastructure fights, please contact Val Wangler at vwangler@gmail.com.

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