President Barack Obama said Tuesday federal agencies are evaluating whether the $3.8-billion pipeline that has sparked months of massive Native American protests in North Dakota could be rerouted to address indigenous concerns of damage to sacred sites.
“As a general rule, my view is that there is way for us to accommodate sacred lands of Native Americans,” Obama said in an interview with NowThis. He added that the Army Corps of Engineers “is examining whether there are ways to reroute this pipeline.”
Obama’s comments come less than a week after 141 people were arrested and dozens were injured when armed law enforcement used sirens, pepper spray, and bean bag shots to clear a protest camp on a site that Dakota Access, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, is putting the 1,172-mile oil pipeline. Tribes say the land is theirs by right of an 1800s treaty.
Also on Tuesday, it was revealed that the company failed to immediately notify state regulators about Native artifacts found during recent construction, the Bismarck Tribune reported. North Dakota is weighing whether to fine the company.
That revelation is likely to emboldened protesters who have long said the path hasn’t been properly reviewed for sacred sites. The line, which is almost finished, has yet to receive the last permits it needs for full build out and cross the Missouri River, which is federal property.
Protesters and the tribe have questioned authorities’ response to what demonstrators say are peaceful protests. Authorities dispute that protests were peaceful.
In the interview, Obama addressed that issue, too. “There is an obligation for protesters to be peaceful, and there is an obligation for authorities to show restraint,” he said. “I want to make sure as everybody is exercising their constitutional rights to be heard, that both are refraining from situations that might result in people being hurt.”
The tribe opposes the line saying a spill would poison the river, the tribe’s sole water supply, and construction is poised to destroy sacred sites.
“We applaud President Obama’s commitment to protect our sacred lands, our water, and the water of 17 million others,” Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman David Archambault II said in a statement. “While the Army Corps of Engineers is examining this issue we call on the administration and the Corps to issue an immediate “stop work order” on the Dakota Access pipeline … we also urge the administration to call for a full environmental impact study. Aside from leading mass protests for months, the tribe has in the past called on Obama to reject the project as he did with the Keyston XL pipeline last year. The tribe has also filed a lawsuit while federal agencies are reviewing the permits and the Obama Administration asked the company to refrain from building near the area.
The company has declined to stop construction in permitted areas and is nearing the water, according to the tribe. The company and state regulators have said the pipeline is safe and the path has been properly reviewed.
“We are going to let it play out for several more weeks and determine whether this can be resolved in a way that I think is properly attentive to the traditions of the first Americans,” Obama said.
Also on Tuesday, North Dakota state officials approved borrowing $4 million for costs linked to law enforcement’s response to the protests.
Some are now calling on the federal government to pick up the tab. “This is really irritating. I can’t tell you how disappointed I am … on an issue that is clearly a federal issue,” Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, said. “This is 110 percent wrong that we have to do this.”
Dakota Access did not respond to a ThinkProgress request for comment.
Update: This article was revised to include the statement of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.