TOPEKA – (May 4, 2020) – The Dakota Access Pipeline should continue operating while an environmental impact study remains pending because shutting down the pipeline would shift millions of barrels of oil to rail transportation, clogging the rail system at the expense of farmers and agribusinesses in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt told a federal court in a legal brief filed last week.
Schmidt, along with the attorneys general of 13 other states, on Friday filed an amicus brief with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia arguing that if an easement allowing operation of the pipeline is vacated, the market will demand that as much North Dakota oil as possible be diverted to the railroads that currently transport grain produced in Kansas and the other states. Subsequently, that lack of rail transportation for grain would lead to higher transportation costs for Kansas farmers and agribusinesses and could contribute food shortages amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Since the North Dakota oil ordinarily carries a higher value than grain, the attorneys general argue in the brief, shutting down the pipeline likely would displace railroad grain cargo in favor of oil and bring back transportation-market conditions that existed before the pipeline became operational in 2017. Some of those conditions included intractable railroad congestion, rotting grain that could not be moved for lack of rail capacity, higher food prices and, ultimately, a potential for food shortages.
“The grain processing industry, struggling during a short-term slow-down in demand during the COVID-19 pandemic, already faces challenging market conditions,” the attorneys general wrote in the brief. “If grain cannot be shipped from its origins and is stranded across the Midwest, swaths of grain customers with time-critical needs—such as animal feedlots that demand grain each day—would quickly fail, with staggering implications for animal welfare and food security. The most food-secure nation on earth could well experience food shortages, to say nothing of the consequences for developing nations whose industries and food security also rely on American grain exports.”
The case is Standing Rock Sioux Tribe v. Army Corps of Engineers, No. 16-1534. A copy of the brief is available at https://bit.ly/2z6MeHe.