North Dakota oil pipeline could become a campaign issue

The Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein is well behind in the polls. But her opposition to an oil pipeline in North Dakota through Sioux land has landed her in the spotlight, something that could help Donald Trump in November. John Dyer reports from Boston.

Jill Stein is the most popular Green Party presidential candidate ever. Her opposition to the North Dakota oil pipeline could make her even more popular. (Image credit: Gage Skidmore, flickr/Creative Commons)

Jill Stein is the most popular Green Party presidential candidate ever. Her opposition to the North Dakota oil pipeline could make her even more popular. (Image credit: Gage Skidmore, flickr/Creative Commons)

Charges filed against Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein during a protest against an oil pipeline in North Dakota illustrate how the environmentalist and ex-physician is drawing more attention than usual in this election season.

But it’s unclear if Stein’s alleged civil disobedience is going to translate into notoriety that might help her at the polls, an outcome that could draw liberal voters away from centre-left Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and help Republican Donald Trump.

Protest against the oil pipeline

Last Wednesday, a North Dakota judge said that if Stein returned to the state, she would be arrested on charges of trespassing and “criminal mischief” for spray painting on a bulldozer that’s part of a controversial oil pipeline.

Amid a rally in Morton County that included around 300 protesters, Stein wrote “I approve this message,” a reference to a phrase that often accompanies candidates’ political television advertisements, on a bulldozer. Her running mate, vice presidential candidate Ajamu Baraka, wrote “We need decolonization” on the equipment.

Called the Dakota Access Pipeline, the USD 3.8-billion project would carry 470,000 barrels of crude oil a day 1,886 kilometres from North Dakota’s shale oil fields to refineries in Illinois.

The pipeline will traverse Native American reservations, prompting an outcry from tribes and environmentalists like Stein about how it could pollute Indian land in the event of a spill.

“I hope the North Dakota authorities press charges against the real vandalism taking place at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation: the bulldozing of sacred burial sites and the unleashing of vicious attack dogs,” said Stein in a statement released after the charges were announced.

Pipeline security officers have set dogs and sprayed mace on protesters.

Obama administration halts work on pipeline

“I hope they take action against the Dakota Access Pipeline company that is endangering drinking water not only for the Standing Rock Sioux,” Stein said. “But for millions of people downstream of the reservation who depend on the Missouri River.”

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe had asked a federal judge to delay work on a portion of the project so that the court would have time to consider the tribe’s claim that the consortium building the pipeline failed to adequately obtain tribal approval for construction on their land. The judge turned down their request.

Last Friday, the Obama Administration took the unusual step of overruling the judge, temporarily blocking work on the pipeline after clashes between protestors and security worsened.

Stein could benefit from unlikeable candidates

Stein has long fought for causes like the Indians’ battle against the pipeline. In Massachusetts, where she settled after completing her studies at Harvard Universities, she has been on the forefront of campaigns to close polluting power plants, incinerators and improve health information for Native Americans about mercury in fish.

Despite her unsuccessful run for president in 2012 and her numerous failed bids for Massachusetts governor and other state offices, Stein hasn’t really gained much traction politically until the run-up to this upcoming election in November.

Both Clinton and Trump are so unpopular that many American voters are considering third-party candidates.

Her presidential campaign currently has the support of around 3.2 per cent of the electorate, according to RealClearPolitics, a respected political tracking website. That’s less than right-leaning Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, a former two-term of governor of New Mexico who has an 8.4 per cent approval rating. But it’s more than any other Green Party candidate has secured.

Nader defends Stein

Critics fear Stein could be a spoiler who might take away a few votes that Clinton would need to overcome Trump, a concern that has become elevated now that the Democrat and Republican are in a statistical dead heat.

Her defenders said that criticism is unfair, however.

Ex-Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader is often maligned for stealing votes from then-Democratic nominee Al Gore in Florida in 2000, paving the way for the Republican George W. Bush’s disastrous presidency. But Gore has often said he doesn’t blame Nader for the loss.

Recently Nader argued that it’s unfair to call Stein a spoiler. She’s simply representing Americans who don’t feel represented by Clinton or Trump, he said. Plenty of voters agree with the Greens’ platform of resistance against Wall Street and the weapons industry and advocacy of improving the sustainability throughout the economy.

“She opposes both parties, indentured to the craven demands of moneyed interests,” Nader wrote in an op-ed in The Washington Post.

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