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Rallies Planned Across The Country To Support N.D. Oil Pipeline Protesters


Protests over the Dakota Access oil pipeline have grown quickly in recent weeks. There are hundreds of protesters camped out on the prairie about an hour south of Bismarck, N.D. And today, the campaign will spread. NPR's Jeff Brady reports support rallies are scheduled around the country.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Outside the White House, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is expected to give his support to the campaign to permanently stop construction of the pipeline. The federal government temporarily halted work last week while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers more closely examines concerns the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has raised. Robert Eder lives on the tribe's reservation.

ROBERT EDER: Nobody would go over to Washington's grave and dig through it or any of the dead presidents, so why are they doing it here to our people? Because we don't count?

BRADY: The tribe says the pipeline route passes through burial grounds and sacred sites. Tribes across the country have faced similar challenges from the outside world in the past - a highway through the Petroglyphs National Monument in New Mexico and a plan for a huge telescope on a mountain important to native Hawaiians. But this pipeline at this time has captured the attention of a lot of people who say they will protest until the project goes away. Among them is Leota Iron Cloud.

LEOTA EASTMAN-IRON CLOUD: Right now, I'm working with the supplies and inventory here at the camp.

BRADY: Iron Cloud is at the main protest camp, and along with two other women, she's unpacking boxes of donated supplies.

EASTMAN-IRON CLOUD: About two-three weeks ago, we really needed batteries, so we started requesting those. Here we are, we're, like, bombarded with batteries. They come in all of a sudden and now we're getting ready for winter, so we're requesting a lot of winter supplies, including thicker sleeping bags.

BRADY: The camp kitchen is a focus for organizers. Right now, it's a series of tents and an outdoor fire. Iron Clad wants something more permanent that will last through North Dakota's long, cold winter.

EASTMAN-IRON CLOUD: I can't speak for everybody here, but, you know, my plan is I'm going to be here till this is completely stopped.

BRADY: Till the pipeline is stopped.

EASTMAN-IRON CLOUD: Till the pipeline is stopped.

BRADY: Statements like that are popular on the reservation but less so in downtown Bismarck where a lot of people have profited from North Dakota's oil drilling boom.

CARY HOFF: Well, they can put the pipeline right through here. It wouldn't bother me any.

BRADY: Cary Hoff is standing next to the bus he drives for work. Hoff says he understands the tribe's concern that the pipeline could put drinking water at risk. But he says spills are very rare, and drillers need the pipeline to get their crude to market.

HOFF: Oil is big business from this state and it generates a lot of tax dollars, you know. You got to keep the state coffers full the way it is with tax dollars.

BRADY: It's easy to find folks on the street who see the upside of the oil business. The industry itself, though, has been tight-lipped. After the Obama administration announced last Friday that it stopped pipeline construction on federal land, the company building the project, Energy Transfer Partners, has not responded to multiple requests for interviews. Local trade groups also have declined requests from NPR. The manager of a union representing pipeline workers did talk briefly with me. He said upwards of 50 of his members have been idle since the government halted work on the pipeline last week. Jeff Brady, NPR News, Bismarck, N.D. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues and climate change. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.