When Jacob Broussard heard the news on Jan. 24, he was outraged. That day, President Donald Trump gave the go-ahead for two controversial oil pipelines — Dakota Access and Keystone XL.
Broussard, a junior majoring in choral music, is a member of the Native American Student Union, a group that brings together students of Native descent on campus. These students, Broussard said, feel the impact of Trump’s order more strongly than others because Native Americans stand to lose the most if these pipelines are built.
“The executive order is a blatant disregard for the sacred land of Native peoples as well as the health of thousands of United States citizens,” Broussard said. “It’s also a violation of fundamental rights.”
Broussard is not alone — students have been speaking out in opposition to the pipelines, most notably in September when members of the Native American Student Union, Young Democratic Socialists and the Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation hosted a rally to protest the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Though former President Barack Obama directed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reevaluate the Dakota Access Pipeline in November and denied construction permits to the Keystone XL Pipeline, Trump’s order has reopened the debate — and students are divided over whether these pipelines should be built.
Furthermore, Broussard worries that the process of transferring this crude oil and its potential for leakage could be detrimental to the environment and surrounding communities. The process used by these pipelines is thought by scientists to increase carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and potentially contaminate large bodies of water like the Mississippi River and drinking water sources for Native Americans, deteriorate the integrity of tribal land and disturb sensitive local habitats, according to Business Insider.
Trump, however, approves of the construction of the pipelines, saying they will create 28,000 jobs and provide opportunity for construction of the pipes in the United States when he signed the executive order on the 24th, as opposed to the pipes being made in other countries, according to NPR. The pipelines spurred several months of protests from environmentalists, Native Americans, human rights activists and those who stood in solidarity with these groups. Large numbers of protestors occupied for months the prospective pipeline route, resulting in various arrests and tension involving law enforcement. Students are split on the morality, cost-benefit analysis and feasibility of the plan to implement the pipelines.
Malcolm Rakshan, a freshman majoring in political science and a member of the USC College Republicans, stands behind the construction of these pipelines.
“Trump made the common sense decision to move forward with the pipeline,” Rakshan said. “Going with the theme of America First, Trump established a precedent to focus on creating jobs through developing public works and improving infrastructure.”
The pipelines plan to navigate through mostly the Midwest, some states also belonging to America’s Rust Belt. This same region won Trump the election — with political scientists arguing that people from these states who were unemployed felt empowered by Trump’s message to create more jobs for them. In and near the Rust Belt region, the pipeline acts as the opportunity for Trump to provide employment for these individuals. But Broussard said this is not a justification.
“No number of jobs is worth risking thousands of lives,” Broussard said. “No amount of oil is worth risking our environment. No potential profits are worth the attempted degradation of a strong and resilient people.”
Though the current administration has green-lighted the construction of these pipelines, Broussard said they will continue to work against the executive order.
“The Native American community will continue to fight for change,” Broussard said. “We will not be silent nor will we ever give up. We still exist.”
Correction: A previous version of this article misquoted Malcolm Rakshan. It has now been updated with what he actually said. The blastZONE regrets this error.