Why Is Mark Ruffalo Protesting a Pipeline in North Dakota?

Mark Ruffalo has long been a vocal advocate for environmental issues. Seen here speaking at the debut of National Geographic's forthcoming climate documentary, 'Before the Flood.' Getty Images

Mark Ruffalo was seen on CNN hulking out this week in a protest against a controversial oil pipeline currently under construction in North Dakota. He recently spent three days in Morton County, south of Bismarck, alongside the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, facing off against police in riot gear. “The State Department, the Department of Interior, the DOJ, and President Obama himself have asked them [Energy Access Partners] to voluntarily halt any construction until this can be worked out in a peaceful manner,” Ruffalo said on CNN. “And the governor, Governor Dalrymple of North Dakota, if there’s blood on anyone’s hands, it’s on his hands.”

It’s not uncommon for Hollywood A-listers to back protest movements, and Ruffalo has had a history of it, particularly when it comes to environmental causes. He's been championing the anti-fracking movement since 2008, speaking out on the issue at rallies, public hearings, and on The Colbert Report. In 2011, he co-founded the Solutions Project, an organization dedicated to accelerating the U.S.’s transition to 100% renewable energy. In 2016, Ruffalo narrated Dear President Obama: The Clean Energy Revolution Is Now, an anti-drilling documentary by director Jon Bowermaster.

However, Ruffalo wasn’t exactly planning to step into the most heated day of the Dakota Access Pipeline protest in North Dakota. The project, for one, is a particularly complicated cause. In addition to the typical concerns of water and land contamination due to crude oil leaks, a portion of the underground pipeline, slated to span 1,134 miles from North Dakota to Illinois, runs through sacred Native American land — at least according to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. Developer Energy Access Partners says the land is private and that the organization went through the proper permitting process (the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted the final permits in July), and even won a subsequent court battle when the tribe sued

The tribe and its supporters, including Ruffalo, refer back to a 19th-century treaty as proof that the land in question belongs to the Native Americans, and that the pipeline construction will damage prayer sites and burial grounds. Regarding Thursday’s clash between protestors and the police, Ruffalo told CNN's Jake Tapper that he did not witness any violence, but that law enforcement officials appeared “very, very aggressive,” with AK-15’s and Humvees, and that he had serious concerns about how the situation may escalate. “We can’t forget our humanity in the face of these kinds of things.”

Like the Sioux, he’s not backing down. “What’s significant, what people don’t know, is that this particular issue has brought together 500 tribes from all over the nation. Never in the history of our nation has all of the Native American tribes come together under one issue.” Next up for Ruffalo and the Sioux: protesting the AIM (Algonquin Incremental) Pipeline, a natural gas pipeline that will endanger Native American land in New York state.