Jan 27, 2017
This story was originally published by High Country News and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the pipeline industry have been locked in bitter dispute over the Dakota Access Pipeline. The 1,172-mile pipeline is nearly finished, except for a section that would cross under Lake Oahe, which the tribe relies on for water. But this week, they were on the same page: They agree Trump’s executive actions will likely lead to authorizations first for the Dakota Access Pipeline and then other big projects.
On Tuesday, the president signed a memorandum instructing the U.S. Army and the Army Corps of Engineers to “review and approve in an expedited manner, to the extent permitted by law and as warranted, and with such conditions as are necessary or appropriate, requests for approvals to construct and operate (the Dakota Access Pipeline).” It also directs the Army to “consider, to the extent permitted by law,” whether to rescind the Obama administration memorandum that stalled construction last month. Following that memorandum from the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, the agency on Jan. 18 issued its notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement and asked for public comment due Feb. 20 before deciding whether to allow an easement needed to complete construction. The Trump memorandum also asked the Army to consider dropping that environmental impact statement.
Trump’s presidential memorandum on the Dakota Access Pipeline is full of legal language and doesn’t directly order the permit necessary for the pipeline to be completed. Still both sides concede that it paves the way for the pipeline to go ahead, probably more effectively than a direct order would have.
Industry representatives say the muted language will make it harder for successful legal challenges once the Army approves the pipeline. The president also signed another memorandum in support of reviving the Keystone XL pipeline to bring tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, and an executive order mandating that environmental reviews of infrastructure be expedited. “They did it for strategic reasons,” says John Stoody, a vice president of the Association of Oil Pipelines. “While the memorandums look vaguer on the surface (than directly ordering an easement), they’re actually stronger legally and have a better chance in resulting in a positive outcome.” Industry officials heralded Trump’s actions as an early indication that a new era of job-creating infrastructure projects has dawned.
The Standing Rock Sioux’s chief lawyer, Jan Hasselman, says under a straightforward reading of Trump’s Dakota Access Pipeline memorandum, the Corps should still go forward with the full environmental impact statement and additional consultation with the tribe as ordered by the Army. That would take many months. “Do I think that’s what’s going to happen? No,” Hasselman, an attorney for Earthjustice, conceded.
One strong point in Trump’s favor, industry officials say, is that even the Obama administration argued that the Army had been on sound legal footing when it initially conducted a streamlined environmental review instead of the full study it’s now planning. “The last administration itself admitted it comported with the law,” Stoody says.
Assistant Secretary of the Army Jo-Ellen Darcy made this point when announcing the decision to stall the pipeline to conduct an environmental impact statement and further consult with the tribe. “I want to be clear that this decision does not alter the Army’s decision that the Corps’ prior reviews and actions comported with legal requirements,” Darcy wrote in a memorandum Dec. 4. “Rather, my decision acknowledges and addresses that a more robust analysis of alternatives can and should be done under these circumstances, before an easement is granted for the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross the Missouri River on Corps land.”
If, as expected, the Corps approves the easement, the tribe intends to challenge it in court. Hasselman underscored that Trump’s memorandum doesn’t mention the tribe, its treaty rights, or its concerns about water quality. “This is another action in a long history of sidestepping treaty rights and trampling on the rights of indigenous people,” he said. “If this is how the Trump administration is going to be approaching issues in Indian country, it’s going to be a long four years.”
Dave Archambault II, chair of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, told reporters that he had repeatedly tried to speak with the Trump administration but was rebuffed.
The tribe got the attention of the Obama administration last year after thousands of protesters gathered in and near the reservation to protest the pipeline plans. Now, the tribe has asked demonstrators to leave by Feb. 18, because of concerns for their health and welfare. “We’re asking that the camp be cleared. We’re asking that people don’t come,” Archambault said during a conference call Wednesday with reporters. “The fight is now in D.C.”
Archambault called on the public to stand up and for civil servants to resist the Trump administration, warning that many more attacks on the environment and people’s rights are on the way. “Now we have to go and make noise where we can be heard.”
Here’s what Trump’s decision means for the Dakota Access Pipeline
From Lakota People’s Law Project Report
January 27, 2017
President Donald Trump has given the green light to streamline construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota. His decision is not surprising given that his cabinet picks are full of pro-oil candidates like Exxon Mobil executive Rex Tillerson and former Texas Governor Rick Perry.
The pipeline construction in its current proposition has been found to understate the risks posed by landslides and amount of safety construction to contain spills. Such spills are most likely going to poison groundwater that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe needs to sustain itself. If the pipeline construction is complete, Standing Rock could be the next Flint, where residents have to use bottled water for daily use.
This executive action overturns all the work water protectors have made recently under the Obama administration, and which is unfortunate because the Standing Rock Sioux tribe formally asked the encampments to disperse on Friday, January 20th according to Reuters. While Archambault stated that the fight is now in the courts, the tribe needs support and solidarity now more than ever.
This unfortunate turn of events overshadows the recent victory of the water protectors in the North Dakota Supreme Court, which allowed for out-of-state lawyers to represent the over 600 protesters that have been arrested so far . With arrests still ongoing, this number is likely to rise.
President Trump’s actions have not fallen on deaf ears, however. Various representatives of environmental groups and civil rights groups, including the ACLU and the Sierra Club, have all voiced their opposition to this revival of pipeline construction.
Activists like Chase Iron Eyes, Lead Attorney for the Lakota People’s Law Project, have been especially active in standing against these actions. On Facebook posted:
“Fighters, brothers and sisters. Come. Heed the call to defend this country against all enemies, foreign & domestic. We shall find out who loves this land, who is loyal to the water and who is a traitor to this land, to our water.”
Protests have also occurred in New York outside of Trump Tower and Trump International Hotel—attendance numbering in the hundreds—to show the President that these actions will not go on without consequence.
As the situation intensifies, people are again diverting their attention to the confrontation in Standing Rock. Chairman of the United Nations (UN) Working Group on the issue of Human Rights, Transnational Corporations and other Business Enterprises, Pavel Sulyandziga, and Grand Chief Wilton Littlechild, member of the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, have both arrived in North Dakota. These two gentlemen will be joined by representatives of the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC) as well as the ACLU Human Rights Program who participated in a human rights training workshop on Sunday January 22nd.
The water protectors still have a long battle ahead of them. In addition to the frigid weather, the state of North Dakota has introduced bills that make it illegal to wear masks at protests and for people to join the resistance camps under threat of being fined $5,000 dollars. Oh but what the North Dakota assembly attempted to make legal, by way of a bill introduction, is the “unintentional” mowing down of protesters being fast moving vehicles.
If these actions are not enough to make you cringe, the Trump administration denied a request by Dave Archambault II to engage in dialogue about moving forward with the oil pipeline. If the President is not even willing to hear both sides of the issue he is essentially declaring what side he stands for.
The fight to protect the water rights and the livelihoods of Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is far from over. We must remain vigilant in this crucial time and do everything we can to stand in solidarity with those who have vowed to protect the land, tribal sovereignty, and clean water.
Please add your comment to the Army Corps of Engineers’ Environmental Impact Statement at lakotalaw.org.dapl-action before the filing period ends on Feb. 20.