Team Obama Dragged To Court Over North Dakota Climate

By Robert Cunningham, updated on February 15, 2024

A nearly eight-year-old legal battle is emerging from the plains of North Dakota, carrying heavy implications for the federal government's past actions.

North Dakota is preparing to sue the United States government regarding its management of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests.

In a trial that could set a precedent for government accountability, North Dakota is seeking over $38 million from the federal government. The state contends this sum is owed for expenses incurred during the intense and often turbulent Dakota Access Pipeline protests. North Dakota's government lays the blame squarely on the federal government's doorstep, alleging a failure to assist local law enforcement efforts and contain the upheaval.

The protests, which began as peaceful gatherings, eventually saw an escalation that included violent confrontations. North Dakota's lawsuit emphasizes the lack of support from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) for local law enforcement. The state was compelled to enlist law enforcement assistance from 11 other states due to the scale of the protests, with the majority of arrests involving non-residents.

Legal Challenge Focuses on Federal Response

The lawsuit focuses on the government's handling of the situation during the Obama era, accusing it of negligence and political tactics that supposedly encouraged disorder at the protests. It's important to clarify that this legal action does not challenge the operation of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Instead, it centers on the federal government's reaction to the demonstrations that took place.

The Dakota Access Pipeline, approved by the North Dakota Public Service Commission and the US Army Corps of Engineers, was built under the Oahe Reservoir without raising major environmental issues. The trial, however, will examine the actions or lack thereof taken by the federal government, which, North Dakota claims, resulted in an extended and expensive dispute. The state alleges that political influence and decisions during the Obama administration led to prolonged legal and environmental assessments, which delayed a solution and increased the financial burden on the state.

Inconsistent Federal Handling Under Scrutiny

The USACE's inconsistent handling of the protest situation has come under severe criticism in the lead-up to the trial. Federal agencies are being accused of failing to uphold their responsibilities, leading to an increased burden on state resources. North Dakota's argument hinges on the federal government's alleged encouragement of the protests, which escalated into a situation requiring extensive law enforcement resources.

The narrative being put forward suggests that the decisions made by the Obama administration in response to political pressure significantly impacted the state's ability to manage the protests. The state's lawsuit is a direct challenge to the federal handling of the situation, which North Dakota claims was marked by inaction and inconsistency.


The Dakota Access Pipeline protests returned to national attention as the trial began. North Dakota is suing the federal government for over $38 million in protest management costs. The state alleges the Obama administration negligently failed to support local law enforcement. North Dakota argues federal actions escalated expenses and prolonged the conflict. Specifically, the state claims the Obama administration politicized the protests and enabled illegal activity. The trial's outcome could set a precedent for federal accountability during protests. It also has broader implications for state-federal relations.

About Robert Cunningham

With years of experience at the forefront of political commentary, Robert Cunningham brings a blend of sharp wit and deep insight to his analysis of American principles at the Capitalism Institute.

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