At the Dakota Access Pipeline expansion hearing, the Public Service Commission admonished the crowd not to testify about two topics: original construction of DAPL and global climate change, saying these topics went beyond the hearing’s scope. The first nine-plus hours of the hearing, those best attended by an initially large crowd, focused on pipeline engineering – and omitted the context surrounding the pipeline.


I sat beside a 16-year-old girl from Standing Rock who would study her written testimony, then put it away. By 6 p.m., she had not been invited to speak, nor had any members of the public. As my family left with our carpool, I feared the frame of the hearing had been set so narrowly that the decision was foregone.

Why should the context of pipeline expansion be forbidden? It’s been said that PSC hearings are not forums on entire extractive industries; that’s not how the process works. But after the hearing, I’m not convinced the process does work.

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If public conversations continue to be framed by this particular pipeline, refinery or facility, we never get to have the conversation that I – and countless others – went to Emmons County to have.

It’s time for the PSC to host a public conversation about energy extraction as a whole – all the pipelines, refineries and facilities. It’s time for the governor to host a public conversation about the consequences of this extraction – violations of tribal sovereignty, as in DAPL construction, and global climate change itself – topics expressly forbidden by the PSC.

Van Fossan, Fargo, is a minister affiliated with the Green Sanctuary Program of the Unitarian Universalist Association.