- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers moved Wednesday to rein in reports that the Dakota Access pipeline easement has been granted, saying the project isn’t yet a done deal.

In a Wednesday statement, Maj. Gen. Malcolm Frost, chief of public affairs, said the pipeline is still under review, despite assurances from North Dakota Republican Sen. John Hoeven and Rep. Kevin Cramer late Tuesday that the corps is proceeding with the easement.

“The Army has initiated the steps outlined in the January 24th Presidential Directive which directs the Acting Secretary of the Army to expeditiously review requests for approvals to construct and operate the Dakota Access Pipeline in compliance with the law,” Maj. Gen. Frost said in an email to The Washington Times. “These initial steps do not mean the easement has been approved.”

“The Assistant Secretary for the Army Civil Works will make a decision on the easement once a full review and analysis is completed in accordance with the directive,” he said.

His message contained more caveats than that sent by Mr. Cramer, who issued a press release late Tuesday under the heading: “Approved—Dakota Access Pipeline receives federal easement.”

“I have received word the Department of Defense is granting the easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline and Congressional notification is imminent,” Mr. Cramer said in his statement.

Mr. Hoeven said he issued his Tuesday press release after speaking with Vice President Mike Pence and Acting Secretary of the Army Robert Speer.

“Today, the Acting Secretary of the Army Robert Speer informed us that he has directed the Army Corps of Engineers to proceed with the easement needed to complete the Dakota Access Pipeline,” Mr. Hoeven said in his statement. “This will enable the company to complete the project, which can and will be built with the necessary safety features to protect the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and others downstream.”

Hoeven spokesman Don Canton told the Associated Press late Tuesday that the easement “isn’t quite issued yet, but they plan to approve it” within days.

Mr. Canton later told The Washington Times that Mr. Hoeven and the Army Corps are on the same page.

“Secretary Speer told us that he had directed the Corps ‘to proceed with the easement,’ which is just what we said in our release and the Corps said in their statement today, that they are taking the steps necessary to approve the project,” Mr. Canton said in an email. “We didn’t say it was approved, and in fact, we told media in follow-up calls that he said it would be approved in days, not weeks.”

The Indigenous Environmental Network, which opposes the pipeline, said Wednesday it was “not reassured” by the agency’s “clarification.”

“When politicians release reckless statements and departments need to clarify the actions of government employees, we take that as an indicator that there is broken communication and procedure within these agencies,” said the network. “It was very careless of Sen. Hoeven to release his statement as it caused confusion and put Water Protectors at risk.”

The lawmakers’ announcement drew a puzzled reaction from the Standing Rock Sioux, which noted that the Army Corps is in the process of preparing an environmental impact statement [EIS] on the final 1,100 feet of the project in North Dakota.

President Trump issued a directive to expedite review of Dakota Access pipeline after the corps published a Jan. 18 notice of intent in the Federal Register on the EIS. The comment period ends Feb. 20.

The Standing Rock Sioux issued a statement late Tuesday saying the tribe would “vigorously pursue legal action” if the easement has been granted already.

“We have to this date received no formal notice that the EIS has been suspended or withdrawn,” the tribe said. “To abandon the EIS would amount to a wholly unexplained and arbitrary change based on the President’s personal views and, potentially, personal investments. Furthermore, the Army Corps lacks statutory authority to simply stop the preparation of the EIS and issue the easement. We stand ready to fight this.”

The corps granted the easement at Lake Oahe in July along with a “notice of no significant impact,” then withdrew it in December under pressure from pipeline protesters camping out near the route in southwest North Dakota.

The $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile oil pipeline, which runs through four states almost entirely on private land, is nearly completed.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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