It appears that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is gearing up to approve an easement that will allow the last stretch of the controversial 1,172-mile-long Dakota Access Pipeline. The final section of the project is slated to run under Lake Oahe and has become the focal point of a months-long protest led by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
The highly-disputed, nearly $4 billion project is funded by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, and following litigation and increasingly volatile protests, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied the easement necessary to complete the pipeline at the end of 2016. The move to deny the easement was celebrated by opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline and panned by Energy Transfer Partners and others with a vested financial interest in its completion.
Following the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announcement that the builders of the pipeline should find a new route, representatives from the companies behind it vowed that they would do no such thing, promising that they would complete the pipeline as planned. After waiting just a few short weeks for Donald Trump to be sworn in as POTUS, Energy Transfer Partners seemed to be getting its way without a costly legal battle. As one of his first actions as president, Trump signed an executive order paving the way for the Dakota Access Pipeline to be completed as planned.
Now, if two North Dakota Republicans are to be believed, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been instructed to sign off on the critical easement under Lake Oahe. While no official announcement as come from the Army and the easement has not been officially released, Senator John Hoeven released a statement on Tuesday indicating that a decision has been made. And it’s a decision that water protectors protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline aren’t going to like, as CNN reports.
In his statement, Hoeven claimed that the order to allow the Dakota Access Pipeline to proceed was handed down by none other than the Acting Secretary of the Army himself, Robert Speer.
“[Speer] has directed the Army Corps of Engineers to proceed with the easement needed to complete the Dakota Access Pipeline.”
Representative Kevin Cramer, who last week said that Donald Trump’s controversial decision to revamp the Dakota Access Pipeline made him a “man of action,” also said that he’d been made aware of the decision of the Army to release the disputed easement. Cramer said that Congress will be made aware of the decision imminently.
Protesters opposed to the Dakota Access Pipeline, led by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, have been fighting against the completion of the multi-state project based on fears that a pipeline leak could poison their water supply (and the water supply of all downstream). In addition, the Native American tribe has expressed well-founded fears that the excavation for the pipeline is damaging and will continue to destroy ancient sacred sites.
Protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline began peacefully enough, but by fall of 2016, exchanges between protesters and law enforcement (including private security employees) had become increasingly violent and volatile. Hundreds of anti-pipeline protesters have been arrested, and police have been accused of using controversial non-lethal force (water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets, etc.) against protesters. In one instance, protesters were hosed down in sub-freezing temperatures, resulting in multiple people requiring treatment for hypothermia and other temperature-related injuries.
As Reuters reports, the Morton County Sheriff’s Department has defended its use of force to protect the private property of company Energy Transfer Partners.
“All the individuals who were there were warned. Warned to back up. Warned to get out of the way over and over again. It was a very simple solution: all you had to do was back up and you wouldn’t get wet.”
In the current legislative session, a bill was even introduced in North Dakota that would allow drivers who “accidentally” run over protesters in the street to escape criminal prosecution.
The protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline have become highly politicized, with former President Obama taking a stand against the project and Donald Trump (who has been rumored to be invested financially in Energy Transfer Partners) supporting its completion.
During the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, former first daughter Malia Obama was spotted actively protesting against the controversial pipeline in one of her first post-White House actions.
In response to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported decision to go ahead with the Lake Oahe easement release, Standing Rock Sioux tribal spokespersons have released a statement of their own. The tribe is particularly concerned that the easement may be granted without the requisite environmental review being completed.
“To abandon the (environmental impact statement) would amount to a wholly unexplained and arbitrary change based on the President’s personal views and, potentially, personal investments.”
The Standing Rock Sioux are far from on their own when it comes to fighting the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline, with people from across the nation and around the world showing up at Standing Rock to protest in solidarity. What’s more, a group of U.S. military veterans collectively known as Veterans Stand has vowed to put boots on the ground alongside the Sioux (and between law enforcement and the completion of the pipeline) to aid them in their efforts.
According to the group, they are prepared to mobilize thousands of vets to stand in the way of the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline. If it happens, it could create a public relations nightmare for the Trump administration, particularly if law enforcement resorts to the use of force to remove protesters.
What are your thoughts on the controversial pipeline? Do you agree with Donald Trump’s decision to allow the project to be completed along its original route? Do you think that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should release its easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline?
[Featured Image by Michael Owen Baker/File/AP Images]