President-elect Donald Trump’s energy and environmental priorities can be summed up as staunchly pro-fossil fuels. He doubled down on these positions Thursday, explicitly backing the Dakota Access pipeline, a $3.6-billion project that he has personal financial ties to. The controversial project has been the target of protests for months in North Dakota, where Native American tribes have been at the forefront of the effort to stop the pipeline’s construction under the Missouri River.
“Mr. Trump expressed his support for the Dakota Access pipeline, which has met or exceeded all environmental standards set forth by four states and the Army Corps of Engineers,” North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven (R) said in a statement Thursday, after a briefing with the president-elect’s team.
“Also, it is important to know that the new administration will work to help us grow and diversify our energy economy and build the energy infrastructure necessary to move it from where it is produced to where it is needed. The result will be more jobs, a more vibrant economy and affordable energy for the American people,” he said.
Hoeven has previously called for the protesters to stand down.
While Trump’s backing of the project, which his team said “has nothing to do with his personal investments and everything to do with promoting policies that benefit all Americans,” was not surprising, it still angered environmentalists and pipeline opponents.
“In supporting the Dakota Access pipeline, Trump has shown us the crony capitalism that will run his administration,” Greenpeace spokesperson Mary Sweeters said in a statement.
At one point, Trump had invested between $500,000 and $1 million in the company constructing the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, according to financial disclosures. Although the Trump team insists that he has since divested from the company, it’s not true that Trump no longer has a financial interest in the pipeline: Trump has between $100,000 and $250,000 invested in the oil and gas company Phillips 66, which will have a 25 percent stake in the finished pipeline.
Moreover, Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren spent $103,000 directly backing Trump’s candidacy, giving another $66,800 to the Republican National Committee. Trump has shrugged off repeated criticisms over his failure to distance himself from numerous investments and companies. The financial dealings create clear conflicts of interest for the president-elect, who will now be directing the agencies responsible for numerous permitting processes.
“This is the definition of corruption,” Sweeters said. “The President of the United States should not be trading favors with oil and gas corporations.”
The pipeline would bring up to 570,000 barrels of oil from the Bakken oilfields of North Dakota across four states an into a pipeline hub in Illinois. It would run through federal land just north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, crossing the Missouri River, the tribe’s sole water source, just a few miles upstream. Tribe members say it puts their health and communities at risk, and have been staging a protest at the site, which still needs Army Corps approval, for months.
The Army Corps recently announced that it would re-evaluate the permits, but a Trump administration is unlikely to side with anti-oil or gas interests.
Protests at the site in North Dakota have at times spilled into violent conflicts between authorities and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and its supporters, who call themselves “water protectors.” One protester nearly lost her arm last month when police lobbed concussion grenades into the crowd, which says it has only been peacefully opposing the construction. Hundreds of others have been arrests, pepper sprayed, and shot with rubber pellets. Last week, protesters filed a police brutality lawsuit.
The situation is looking increasingly tense. The North Dakota governor has ordered an eviction of the camps, and authorities have reportedly cut off supplies to the area, which is heading into the dead of winter.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said Trump has $500,000 to $1 million invested in Phillips 66. The most recent disclosure has different numbers, and the article has been updated to reflect that.