Washington Blocks Pipeline

    ‘Indian country will be forever grateful’


    Bottom Line: The federal government’s refusal to allow progress on the Dakota Access pipeline as currently constituted is a major environmental victory with an uncertain ending.

    Fireworks fill the night sky above Oceti Sakowin Camp as activists celebrate after learning an easement had been denied for the Dakota Access Pipeline near the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on December 4, outside Cannon Ball, North Dakota.

    Scott Olson/Getty Images

    Following months of standoff and periodic clashes between law enforcement authorities and thousands of activists, the federal government announced this weekend that it would not approve current permits for construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline.

    Army Department officials made the announcement on December 4. The decision halts building on the $3.8 billion dollar project, which has been partially stalled at the easement of the contested Missouri River, the primary water source for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

    But even as pipeline opponents celebrated, they were faced with eviction from their encampments—concentrated at Cannon Ball, North Dakota—by order of the Army Corps of Engineers and North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple. The former authority had given the water protectors a deadline of December 5 to leave.

    The Army’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Works, Jo-Ellen Darcy, said the decision to deny permits that would have allowed was based on a need to explore alternate routes for the 1,172-mile-long pipeline. Plans called for burying the pipeline approximately 100 feet below the Missouri River.

    “Although we have had continuing discussion and exchanges of new information with the Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access, it’s clear that there’s more work to do,” she said.

    The federal agency is now recommending that an Environmental Impact Statement be conducted with full public input and analysis to explore a possible reroute of the pipeline.

    The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has long argued that the existing path of the energy project threatens the Missouri River and sacred sites. President Obama blocked construction of easements on both sides of the river in early September; last month, he publicly stated that the Army Corps of Engineers was considering alternate routes for the pipeline project.

    “The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and all of Indian country will be forever grateful to the Obama administration for this historic decision,” said Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II. “In a system that has continuously been stacked against us from every angle, it took tremendous courage to take a new approach to our nation-to-nation relationship.”

    However, Energy Transfer Partners, which operates the pipeline, has publicly rejected the idea of a reroute. Consequently, tribal leaders and organizers hinted that their fight might not be over.

    “We hope that [Energy Transfer Partners CEO] Kelcy Warren, Governor Dalrymple and the incoming Trump administration respect this decision and understand the complex process that led us to this point,” said Archambault.

    “Our network is singing the victory song with the Standing Rock Sioux,” said Tom Goldtooth, director of the Indigenous Environmental Network.  “We are cautiously hopeful that this is a total win.”

    At press time, two separate orders from the Army Corps and Gov. Dalrymple to evacuate the Cannon Ball protest camps were pending. The Corps’ directive was issued on November 25; three days later, Dalrymple ordered the immediate and “mandatory evacuation of all persons located in areas under the proprietary jurisdiction of the United States Army Corps of Engineers located in Morton County.”

    The two directives were issued within days of Morton County Sheriff’s deputies spraying rubber bullets, mace and water in subfreezing temperatures on more than 400 people demonstrating at a bridge blockade not far from the protest camps. Both directives emphasized the importance of public safety.

    “Pursuant to C.F.R. 327.12, I am closing the portion of Corps-managed federal property north of the Cannon Ball River to all public use and access,” wrote the Corps’ Omaha District Commander, Col. John W. Henderson. “I do not take this action lightly but have decided that it is required due to the concern for public safety.”

    “The Army Corps of Engineers is seeking a peaceful and orderly transition to a safer location, and has no plans for forcible removal,” Henderson wrote. “But those who choose to stay do so at their own risk as emergency, fire, medical, and law enforcement response cannot be adequately provided in these areas. Those who remain will be considered unauthorized and may be subject to citation under federal, state, or local laws.”

    Henderson added that his agency “has established a free speech zone on land south of the Cannon Ball River for anyone wishing to peaceably protest.”

    In his executive order, Dalrymple invoked his authority to “minimize or avert the effects of a disaster or emergency” and cited the Army Corps eviction order. Pointing to the potential hazards of the upcoming winter, he said that at the camps, “large populations” were congregated “in tents, vehicles, temporary and semi-permanent structures which have not been inspected and approved by Morton County as proper dwellings suitable for winter habitation.”

    Prior to the pipeline being halted, and as the December 5 eviction deadline loomed, many water protectors registered defiance.

    “They may have to bring the Army to get rid of us,” said Toni Cervantes, 65, of San Francisco. “There will be a worldwide uproar if this is done as violently by the militarized police as it has been. I can’t even imagine. I’m just praying for a peaceful end to this whole thing.”  http://bit.ly/2gqYPXA, http://bit.ly/2gBaYc4 and http://bit.ly/2gV63XE

    Additional reporting by Theresa Braine.