As Trump administration pushes Dakota Access Pipeline forward, tribes ‘stand ready to fight’

The Army Corps of Engineers has been instructed to grant the final easement for the pipeline.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File
CREDIT: AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File

The controversial Dakota Access Pipeline just got one step closer to completion: according to statements released on Tuesday night by two North Dakota lawmakers, the acting secretary of the Army has instructed the Army Corps of Engineers to grant the final permit needed to finish the pipeline.

The easement has not officially been granted — contrary to Rep. Kevin Cramer’s (R-ND) statement — and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has pledged to vigorously pursue legal action to ensure that the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), ordered in December by President Obama, is completed. But the statements raise questions about how the Army Corps intends to proceed now that President Trump, a staunch supporter of the pipeline, is in office.

Trump — who campaigned on a platform of increased fossil fuel extraction, and repeatedly praised both the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone XL Pipeline — issued an executive memorandum last week calling for the Army Corps of Engineers to expedite review and approval of the final easement needed to finish the pipeline.

“To abandon the EIS would amount to a wholly unexplained and arbitrary change based on the president’s personal views and, potentially, personal investments,” the Standing Rock Sioux said in a statement. “We stand ready to fight this battle against corporate interest superseding government procedure and the health and well-being of millions of Americans.”

Thousands camped out for months in North Dakota to protest the construction of the pipeline, which the Standing Rock Sioux and other critics argue would endanger the tribe’s primary source of drinking water and disrupt sacred ground.

In December, protesters won a major — but brief — victory when the Army Corps of Engineers determined that one stretch of the pipeline needed to undergo a full Environmental Impact Statement to determine the full impact of the pipeline. The 1,110-foot stretch that was to be studied — a stretch that crosses under Lake Oahe, the Standing Rock Sioux’ primary source of drinking water — was one of the final pieces of the 1,170-mile pipeline, which is almost 80 percent complete. The pipeline would carry oil from North Dakota’s oil fields to existing energy infrastructure in Illinois.

News that the easement could soon be granted rippled through environmental justice and indigenous communities, with many pledging to protest any attempt to restart construction of the pipeline.

“Trump and his climate denying cabinet are clearly doing what is best for their businesses and are willing to put profit before human rights and the environment,” the Indigenous Environmental Network said in a statement. “But make no mistake: we are prepared to mobilize and resist this brazen power grab.”

The pipeline is yet another example of President Trump’s opaque web of conflicts of interest: Trump could own as much as $50,000 worth of stock in Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the pipeline. While several spokespeople for the Trump administration have claimed the president has divested from the developer, he has offered no evidence backing up these claims. Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren also donated more than $100,000 to Trump’s presidential campaign.