The Obama administration bowed Sunday to protesters by pulling its previously issued permit for the Dakota Access pipeline, leaving the company building the project in limbo for now and pushing the headache to the Trump administration.
The decision announced by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe calls for Energy Transfer Partners to reroute the 1,172-mile, four-state pipeline, which is about 90 percent complete, on the final 1,100-foot stretch in North Dakota.
“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,” said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Jo-Ellen Darcy in a statement. “The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing.”
Supporters of the pipeline decried the move, accusing the administration of kowtowing to political pressure, while the tribe said in a statement that “we wholeheartedly support” the administration’s decision to “do the right thing.”
“Today, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that it will not be granting the easement to cross Lake Oahe for the proposed Dakota Access pipeline,” said the tribe in a statement. “Instead, the corps will be undertaking an environmental impact statement to look at possible alternative routes.”
The tribe also thanked its “millions” of supporters around the world and said that Indian country would be “forever grateful to the Obama administration.”
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Rep. Kevin Cramer, North Dakota Republican, accused the administration of changing the rules in order to reward “criminal behavior,” referring to the violent activity of some protesters.
“I hoped even a lawless president wouldn’t continue to ignore the rule of law,” Mr. Cramer said. “However, it was becoming increasingly clear he was punting this issue down the road. Today’s unfortunate decision sends a very chilling signal to others who want to build infrastructure in this country.
Craig Stevens, spokesman for the Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now, said the “purely political decision flies in the face of common sense and the rule of law.”
He noted that the pipeline never crosses the Standing Rock reservation and is co-located with a 30-year-old natural gas pipeline, which also received the required state and federal permits.
“President Obama’s decision not to issue the final easement is a rejection of the entire regulatory and judicial system, as well as the scores of Army Corps of Engineers and civil servants who toiled for more than 800 days to ensure the process was followed correctly, in accordance with the law,” Mr. Stevens said.
Energy Transfer Partners filed a lawsuit last month seeking to end the administration’s delay of the project, which received the easement on federal land at Lake Oahe in July.
Since then, however, thousands of protesters have gathered on federal land near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, in an effort to stop the project. More activists affiliated with the group Veterans Stand for Standing Rock are expected to hold another protest Monday.
The corps’ decision could still be overturned after President-elect Donald Trump takes office Jan. 20, but the move does allow President Obama to leave office without alienating environmental groups opposed to the project.
“No win is ever permanent, but this is testament to amazing organizing,” said 350.org founder Bill McKibben, who has fought the pipeline as part of the “keep it in the ground” movement.
The decision also comes with state and local officials raising alarm about safety concerns at the protesters’ camps on federal land as snow and subfreezing temperatures blanket the prairie and activists refuse to heed evacuation orders.
North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple issued an evacuation order last week, but state officials said they would be unable to remove forcibly the activists as long as they remain on federal land.
The corps has also urged the activists to leave, citing the dangerously cold weather, while assuring protesters that they would not be evicted by force.
Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said Sunday that the Justice Department would “continue to monitor the situation” and “stand ready to provide resources to help all those who can play a constructive role in easing tensions.”
State and local law enforcement had spent more than $10 million to herd the protesters off private property and public highways and roads, while the Obama administration had refused to help with costs despite allowing the protesters to remain.
“With President-elect Trump set to take office in 47 days, we are hopeful that this is not the final word on the Dakota Access Pipeline,” said Mr. Stevens.