- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 3, 2016

Say this for President Obama: His suggestion to reroute the Dakota Access pipeline has brought both sides together, although not in the way he might have hoped.

The idea has been condemned by environmentalists and pipeline protesters, who want to see the project blocked altogether, as well as pipeline supporters, who say a reroute would be prohibitively expensive and represent flagrant interference with the regulatory process.

Then there is the court record showing that Dakota Access LLC has already rerouted the pipeline repeatedly — 140 times — in response to concerns from archaeologists and tribes about historic relics and cultural sites.

During that two-year period, however, Standing Rock Sioux officials repeatedly ignored or refused efforts to consult with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“The Corps has documented dozens of attempts to engage Standing Rock in consultations to identify historical resources at Lake Oahe and other PCN [pro-construction notice] crossings,” said U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg in his Sept. 9 order rejecting the tribe’s motion for an injunction.

“Suffice it to say that the Tribe largely refused to engage in consultations. It chose instead to hold out for more — namely, the chance to conduct its own cultural surveys over the entire length of the pipeline,” said the judge.

Mr. Obama is regarded as a foe of such projects after blocking the Keystone XL pipeline last year, but the Obama administration has little say over the Dakota Access pipeline, which is being built almost entirely on private land.

Only 3 percent of the 1,172-mile route actually touches on federal jurisdiction. The pipeline never enters Standing Rock territory, although it crosses the Missouri River under Lake Oahe about a half-mile from the reservation.

In addition, the $3.7 billion pipeline, which will funnel nearly a half-million barrels of crude oil per day from North Dakota’s Bakken field to Illinois, tracks alongside another pipeline at Lake Oahe in order to avoid creating any new disturbances.

“The current route of the Dakota Access Pipeline only passes through about 35 miles of federally controlled land, does not cross the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, and is collocated with a 30-year-old natural gas pipeline so as to ensure that it avoids culturally significant sites,” said Craig Stevens, spokesman for the Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Coalition.

Brian Kalk, member of the North Dakota Public Service Commission, said he understood the tribe’s concerns but defended the route.

“This is a very good route. If you’re going to build a pipeline, this is as safe as it can be built,” Mr. Kalk told the Associated Press.

Commission chair Julie Fedorchak said she had “grave concerns” about the president’s idea to alter the route for “a company that has already completed the process and received the permits. I just don’t think that’s good public policy.”

Meanwhile, pro-business groups have raised alarm over the precedent that would be set by presidential interference with the rule of law in order to placate protesters.

The cost of stopping construction in order to redo environmental and cultural assessments on a new route would run into the hundreds of millions of dollars, sending the signal to other companies that “the country is closed for business,” said Mr. Stevens.

“Because no company would invest the billions of dollars necessary to complete the already time-consuming and onerous regulatory process only to be subject to a re-review in the latter stages of its project and potentially be shut down,” he said.

Mr. Obama’s suggestion, which came during an online interview Tuesday with NowThis News, was applauded as a step in the right direction by Standing Rock Sioux chairman David Archambault II, who said he appreciated the president’s “commitment to protect our sacred lands.”

At the same time, Mr. Archambault called on the Obama administration to issue “an immediate ‘stop work order’ on the Dakota Access Pipeline,” citing concerns about the tribe’s drinking water and relics.

Environmentalists were less diplomatic. Greenpeace USA spokeswoman Lilian Molina said the administration “seems to be buying time to maintain the status quo and profits for fossil-fuel investors.”

“There is only one option that is truly attentive to the Native lives and lands at stake: respect the rights and sovereignty of Indigenous communities by revoking the permits immediately,” Ms. Molina said in a statement.

After the judge refused to stop the project, the Obama administration made the unprecedented decision to hold up the final federal easement in order to conduct a review of the tribal consultation process, which is underway. The final meeting is scheduled for Nov. 21.

The pipeline is more than 75 percent completed and almost entirely finished in North Dakota, with the exception of the small stretch under federal jurisdiction.

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