The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers confirmed Tuesday that it will grant the easement needed to complete the Dakota Access pipeline, but the outcry surrounding the project is far from resolved.
In letters to House and Senate members disclosed in a court filing, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army Paul D. Cramer said he will issue the easement within 24 hours, citing President Trump’s memorandum Jan. 24 to expedite the Keystone XL and Dakota Access projects.
The $3.8 billion Energy Transfer Partners project has been delayed for months after the Obama administration suspended and then withdrew an approved easement for the final 1,100-foot stretch running under Lake Oahe in North Dakota.
“The corps intends to execute this easement at a time that is mutually convenient to the corps and the company, no earlier than 24 hours following the delivery of this notification letter,” said Mr. Cramer.
The letters brought relief to the pipeline’s supporters after wrangling since August with the thousands of protesters who descended upon southern North Dakota to stop the project and the Obama administration, which granted the easement in July and then repeatedly delayed it under pressure from the Standing Rock Sioux and environmental groups.
House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop, Utah Republican, said the approval means “we can officially say goodbye to infrastructure approvals being subject to political impulse.”
Opponents of the project were livid, insisting that they will fight the decision to cut off an environmental impact statement on the pipeline initiated last month by the Obama administration. The comment period for the review ends Feb. 20.
Standing Rock Sioux chairman Dave Archambault II said the tribe “will fight to protect our water and sacred places from the brazen private interests trying to push this pipeline through to benefit a few wealthy Americans with financial ties to the Trump administration.”
“Americans have come together in support of the Tribe asking for a fair, balanced and lawful pipeline process,” Mr. Archambault said in a statement. “The environmental impact statement was wrongfully terminated. This pipeline was unfairly rerouted across our treaty lands. The Trump administration — yet again — is poised to set a precedent that defies the law and the will of Americans and our allies around the world.”
Mr. Archambault called earlier for rerouting the pipeline away from the reservation, located about a half-mile from the current route, but environmental groups made it clear that they want to stop the project altogether as part of the “keep it in the ground” movement.
Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica called the Army’s decision “as sickening as it is predictable.”
“The people’s insistence to keep fossil fuels in the ground will not disappear,” he said.
Jay Timmons, CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, praised the green light on the easement as “welcome news for manufacturers.”
“Such investments in America’s energy infrastructure create tremendous opportunities for the manufacturers who supply these projects,” Mr. Timmons said. “The construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline will boost manufacturing across the country. Building new energy infrastructure makes our country more competitive, creates jobs and helps make life more affordable for our families — common goals that all Americans support.”
Protesters have roiled the area near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, since August with makeshift camps on federal land serving as launching pads for blocking highways, bridges and roads, ending in sometimes violent confrontations with local law enforcement.
Nearly 700 activists have been arrested since August, primarily on trespassing and rioting charges, but nearly all of those arrested have bailed out almost immediately, thanks to millions of dollars in donations from supporters across the country.
Protesters have also put pressure on banks such as Wells Fargo & Co. to stop financing the $3.8 billion pipeline, owned by Energy Transfer Partners in Dallas.
“Already, banks are pulling out of the financing arrangements for the Dakota Access Pipeline, and they are wise to do so. We will continue our efforts to defund DAPL, and we’ll support efforts to resist the restart of construction of this pipeline,” said Oil Change International campaigns director David Turnbull.
Whether the announcement will send protesters back to the camps is unclear. The tribe has called for activists to stay away and instead show their support at a March 10 march on Washington, citing the damage the protesters have done to the prairie.
The tribe is leading a massive cleanup of the region after protesters left behind acres of abandoned tents, teepees, blankets and garbage.
Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, vowed that the pipeline would not go through “without a fight” and warned Mr. Trump to “expect mass resistance.”
“The granting of an easement, without any environmental review or tribal consultation, is not the end of this fight — it is the new beginning. Expect mass resistance far beyond what Trump has seen so far,” said Mr. Goldtooth.
“The granting of this easement goes against protocol, it goes against legal process, it disregards more than 100,000 comments already submitted as part of the not-yet-completed environmental review process — all for the sake of Donald Trump’s billionaire big oil cronies,” he said.
Supporters noted that the Army Corps approved the easement in July after a two-year consultation process that included tribes, while Energy Transfer Partners agreed to reroute the 1,172-mile, four-state pipeline at numerous junctures.