An attorney for the Army Corps of Engineers told a federal court on Tuesday that the administration would be approving the final easement allowing the pipeline to cross underneath Lake Oahe, the primary source of drinking water for the nearby Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
The pipeline has been a source of conflict for the Standing Rock Sioux, who argue that it would disrupt sacred tribal land and endanger their drinking water. The Obama administration had initially denied the final easement for the pipeline, directing the Army Corps of Engineers to instead carry out a complete Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for that portion of the pipeline.
The Army Corps said that it does not plan to abide by the former president’s directions, and instead, will follow Trump’s executive memo, released during the first week of his presidency, which directed the Army Corps to move forward with construction in an “expedited” manner. That includes waiving traditional Army Corps policy that requires a two week period between when the Army Corps notifies members of Congress of its intent to grant an easement and when the easement is actually granted; in this case, the Army Corps is only waiting 24 hours.
Last week, in anticipation of the decision, the Standing Rock Sioux pledged to fight any attempt by the Army Corps to skip the EIS in court, calling such a decision “a wholly unexplained and arbitrary change based on the president’s personal views and, potentially, personal investments.” Trump could own as much as $50,000 worth of stock in Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the pipeline; spokespeople for the president claim he divested earlier this summer, but have provided no evidence to back up that claim.
Thousands of protesters camped near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation for months in an attempt to convince the Obama administration to deny the project’s final permit. A few hundred activists still remain at the protest camp — and while Standing Rock Sioux Tribe officials have said they are working with law enforcement to stabilize the situation at the protest camp, they have said that they don’t want any protesters “forcibly removed” from the site.
The pipeline, which is nearly 80 percent complete, would carry oil from North Dakota some 1,172-miles to existing energy infrastructure in Illinois.
In response to the Army Corps’ decision, environmental groups pledged to redouble their efforts to support the fight against the pipeline.
“Trump thinks he’s getting what he wants, but the people who’ve been emboldened by the worldwide fight against the Dakota Access pipeline won’t quietly back away,” Mary Boeve, executive director of 350.org, said in a statement. “Indigenous leaders, landowners, and climate activists are ready challenge this decision in the courts and in the streets — as we have each time the fossil fuel industry steamrolls over human rights for their own profits.”