- - Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Anyone surprised by Barack Obama’s last-minute decision to pass on the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline hasn’t been paying attention. Going to war, even with foes of fossil fuels, has rarely appealed to the man who prefers to lead from behind. Rather than provoke the wrath of environmentalists so late in the game, Mr. Obama is determined to punt and run out the clock. It will fall to Donald Trump to take on those who forced the president to take a knee. Once he takes office, the new president must not duck.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has balked at issuing a final permit enabling builders of the pipeline to bore beneath North Dakota’s Lake Oahe to finish the $3.8 billion project. The 1,134-mile pipeline, connecting the North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields to storage tanks in Illinois, has triggered protests by members of the Standing Rock Sioux who contend the pipeline would despoil their ancestral homeland and threaten their water supply. Their concerns appear to be exaggerated; the pipeline would pass no closer than to a half-mile of tribal property. Their home “where the buffalo roam” would remain untouched.

Where there’s oil, there are environmental fanatics eager to rumble. It’s the fanatics, not so much the Sioux, that Mr. Obama is determined to appease. For them, the goal is not a rerouting of the pipeline, but to block the pipeline from ever being completed. “The fight against Dakota Access has fired up a resistance movement that is ready to take on any fossil fuel project the Trump administration tries to approve,” says May Boeve, environmental action director of 350.org. “On Dakota Access and every other pipeline, if he tries to build it, we will come.”

It’s their long war against fossil fuels that motivated thousands of protesters to ignore pleas from Gov. Jack Dalrymple of North Dakota to leave their encampment on the wind-swept plains. True believers with warm coats say they’ll return to kill the project for good, just as they persuaded Mr. Obama to spike the Keystone XL Pipeline last year.

But Mr. Trump says he supports completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline, and quickly. It’s important that he not waver. The rule of law matters, and enabling a few radicals, or even a few thousand, to overrule the will of the American people would be a tyranny of the minority.

Pipelines are a 21st century fact of life. America is crisscrossed by them, and 72,000 miles of pipelines carry crude oil. Unless the protesters rode up to North Dakota on ponies, they too depend on cheap gas to do their business. Renewable energy sources that environmentalists demand still only provide about 10 percent of the nation’s energy needs. An expanse of solar panels that could cover West Virginia would be required to power the entire country, and nights and cloudy days would dim to dark.

The Standing Rock Sioux have refused to cooperate with pipeline builders, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and pipeline partners have conferred with 55 Indian tribes on nearly 400 occasions over two years, altering the pipeline route more than a hundred times to accommodate tribal and environmental consideration. Once sworn in, the man who celebrates “the art of the deal” should offer the Indians one they can’t refuse, and move on to complete the pipeline.

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