The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it plans to grant the final easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline, reversing the Obama administration’s decision in December and clearing the way for the project’s completion.
In a court filing in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., the Army Corps said it would allow Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the pipeline, to build under Lake Oahe on the Missouri River. The Sioux Standing Rock Tribe opposed the crossing, alleging that the pipeline puts its water supply downstream at risk. Months of protests resulted.
As it signaled its intent to grant the easement, the Army Corps also cancelled the pipeline’s new environmental impact assessment ordered by the Obama administration, which was expected to take months.
“Today’s announcement will allow for the final step, which is granting of the easement,” Robert Speer, acting secretary of the Army, said in a statement. “Once that it [sic] done, we will have completed all the tasks in the Presidential Memorandum of Jan. 24, 2017.”
President Trump’s memorandum said the pipeline was in the national interest and directed the Army Corps of Engineers to do everything it could to expedite the pipeline’s completion, including granting the easement.
In a letter notifying Congress of its decision, deputy assistant secretary of the Army Paul Kramer said that the agency was waiving its policy of waiting 14 days after notification before granting the easement, but he added it would wait at least 24 hours. That means the easement could be granted as early as Wednesday, although construction can’t immediately start if there’s a court challenge to the decision.
In a statement, the Sioux Standing Rock Tribe said the easement “cannot be granted legally at this time” and vowed to fight the Army Corps’ decision in court.
“The Obama administration correctly found that the Tribe’s treaty rights needed to be acknowledged and protected, and that the easement should not be granted without further review and consideration of alternative crossing locations,” tribe attorney Jan Hasselman said in a statement. “Trump’s reversal of that decision continues a historic pattern of broken promises to Indian Tribes and unlawful violation of Treaty rights. They will be held accountable in court.”
The news came as a disappointment to protesters, who for 10 months camped on land near the proposed Lake Oahe crossing until the Sioux Standing Rock Tribe asked them to clear out last month. The tribe contends the $3.8 billion pipeline poses a threat to drinking water and sacred sites along the route.
“We thought we had a little more time,” Linda Black Elk, a water protector with more than 16,000 followers on Facebook, said in a livestream reacting to the news. “But it’s just really devastating, and I think all of our hearts are broken that this is happening.”
“I don’t think anyone has given up, even now,” she added.
Backed by Energy Transfer Partners, the 1,172-mile Dakota Access Pipeline aims to carry 470,000 barrels of crude oil per day through North Dakota and three other states. The pipeline company has said in court that it needed to complete the pipeline by Jan. 1, 2017 to fulfill its contracts. Amid the conflict over the pipeline, police say they have made nearly 700 arrests in the past six months.
The Tribe is organizing a march on Washington planned for March 10.