By Glynn Wilson –
Apparently President Obama is not quite ready to bow out as a lame duck just yet and give President-elect Donald J. Trump all the Twitter fun. His administration announced Sunday afternoon that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has decided to deny a request for an easement so the Dakota Access Pipeline could be completed through the Missouri River.
Word of the decision spread like wildfire in the Oceti Sakowin Camp and was hailed as a great victory for the environment and Native Americans all over the country and the world on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. It will be considered a major milestone and a historic protest in compating climate change due to global warming from the burning of fossil fuels.
“IM IN TEARS!!! WE DID IT!!!!,” Sasha Elizabeth McVeigh said in one of the first reaction postings on the Standing Rock Protectors – Pipeline Protest group page on Facebook. “THE BLACK SNAKE IS DEAD!!!”
The Department of the Army’s announcement was posted online Sunday after a call to Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Dave Archambault II, who issued a statement saying: “With this decision we look forward to being able to return home and spend the winter with our families.”
In the camps by the river it was hailed as a great victory by thousands of water protectors who have been blocking the construction from reaching the river north of Cannon Ball, North Dakota, with camps on federal property and protest actions when the company was seen trying to work on the project. Those celebrating included a large contigent of U.S. military veterans, arriving by the thousands this weekend. They pledged to act as “human shields” for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which has been protesting the so-called “black snake” oil pipeline that was projected to cost $3.8 billion and pass through four states.
The announcement was made by the Army’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Works, Jo-Ellen Darcy, who said the decision was based on a need to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing and produce a full Environmental Impact Statement in consultation with the tribe. Her office had announced the delay in the decision on the easement on Nov. 14.
“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,” Darcy said. “The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing.”
Darcy said that the consideration of alternative routes would be best accomplished through an Environmental Impact Statement with full public input and analysis.
If not completed in time, oil delivery contracts for the pipeline will expire in January. It is not clear if this will permanently jeopardize the entire pipeline, since the Corps announcement said moving the pipeline was still on the table. It could still be left to the next administration to make the final decision, so protest leaders in the camp were urging people to stay and remain vigilant.
The Dakota Access Pipeline is an approximately 1,172 mile pipeline that would connect the Bakken and Three Forks oil production areas in North Dakota to an existing crude oil terminal near Pakota, Illinois. The pipeline is 30 inches in diameter and is projected to transport approximately 470,000 barrels of oil per day, with a capacity as high as 570,000 barrels. The current proposed pipeline route would cross Lake Oahe, an Army Corps of Engineers reservoir on the river near the confluence of the Cannonball River, running along the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation just a half a mile down the road from the border.
The company constructing the pipeline, Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, with Donald Trump as a major investor, had said it was unwilling to reroute the project.
It and the Morton County Sheriff’s Office, which has done much of the policing of the protests, didn’t have immediate comment, according to media outlets in the area, although live video showed the law envorcement vehicles and personnel in full retreat mode in an attempt to deescalate the situation. It is unclear whether behind the scenes Trump will order the company CEO to be, well in his famous words: “Your Fired.”
U.S. Secretary for the Interior Sally Jewell said in a statement that the Corps’ “thoughtful approach … ensures that there will be an in-depth evaluation of alternative routes for the pipeline and a closer look at potential impacts.” She also said the decision “underscores that tribal rights reserved in treaties and federal law, as well as Nation-to-Nation consultation with tribal leaders, are essential components of the analysis to be undertaken in the environmental impact statement going forward.”
The tribe says the oil pipeline, largely complete except for the now-blocked segment underneath Lake Oahe, would threaten fresh drinking water, wildlife and Native American burial grounds, and it is considered a major milestone and a historic protest in compating climate change due to global warming from the burning of fossil fuels by activists from all over the world.
It will now have to go back to the drawing board, although Energy Transfer Partners issued a statement reiterating that it would continue to try to build the pipeline and cross the river at Lake Oahu anyway.
“For more than three years now, Dakota Access Pipeline has done nothing but play by the rules. The Army Corps of Engineers agrees, and has said so publicly and in federal court filings,” the company says. “The Corps’ review process and its decisions have been ratified by two federal courts. The Army Corps confirmed this again (Sunday) when it stated its ‘policy decision’ does ‘not alter the Army’s position that the Corps’ prior reviews and actions have comported with legal requirements.'”
In spite of consistently stating at every turn that the permit for the crossing of the Missouri River at Lake Oahe granted in July 2016, comported with all legal requirements, including the use of an environmental assessment, rather than an environmental impact statement, the Army Corps now seeks to engage in additional review and analysis of alternative locations for the pipeline, the company says.
“The White House’s directive today to the Corps for further delay is just the latest in a series of overt and transparent political actions by an administration which has abandoned the rule of law in favor of currying favor with a narrow and extreme political constituency,” the company statement claims. “As stated all along, ETP and SXL are fully committed to ensuring that this vital project is brought to completion and fully expect to complete construction of the pipeline without any additional rerouting in and around Lake Oahe. Nothing this Administration has done today changes that in any way.”
Tribal leaders and others involved in the protest are urging people to remain in the camp and stay vigilant.
The word “oahe” signifies “a place to stand on” in the Dakota language. Standing Rock is such a signifcant place now that perhaps Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was on to something when he suggested that the Obama administration declare it a national monument.
Even if the victory at Standing Rock turns out to be temporary, it was cause for celebration never the less.
© 2016, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.