February 7, 2017; National Public Radio

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has decided to grant an easement allowing the final section of the 1,170-mile Dakota Access pipeline to be completed under the Missouri River’s Lake Oahe reservoir near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota. The easement will be officially granted as early as Wednesday afternoon. Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the pipeline, estimates that remaining construction will take less than 90 days, with operation of the pipeline to begin shortly afterward.

The Corps’ announcement cut short by two weeks its previously announced environmental impact assessment and public comment period that had been issued on January 18th. However, President Trump issued an executive memorandum on January 24th directing the government to expedite construction of the Dakota Access pipeline and the larger Keystone XL pipeline project, both placed on hold during the Obama administration.

NPR reports, “In a letter to Congress announcing the decision, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army Paul Cramer cited the president’s memorandum, saying that ‘consistent with the direction’ in the memo, his agency would ‘waive its policy to wait 14 days after Congressional notification before granting an easement.’” It’s interesting to note that the letter was addressed to U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalava (D-AZ), the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Natural Resources, and no one in the GOP majority in Congress. Standard protocol on official communications with Congressional committees is for letters to be addressed to committee chairs or to committee chairs and ranking minority members jointly. The letter makes no mention of its being issued in response to a request from Rep. Grijalava, one reason why a letter would be sent to a committee member. President Trump and his staff will likely have pointed questions for Cramer, as will the committee chair.

The announcement to curtail the public comment period and grant the easement is reported to have taken pipeline opponents by surprise, leaving them scrambling to prepare last-minute court filings to delay action on the Corps’ easement. Previous federal court challenges to the pipeline’s construction in North Dakota have been unsuccessful.

NPQ covered the large protests that took place last year, beginning with the Lakota youth RezPect Our Water organization and growing to include thousands of people, including support from many celebrities, protesting the pipeline based on drinking water safety for Standing Rock Tribe members as well as other concerns—environmental, tribal sovereignty, and fossil fuel use among them. The protestors’ camps, largely abandoned in December at the request of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe due to a combination of success in delaying the pipeline’s completion and the harsh winter weather conditions in the area, are in the process of being cleared. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has agreed to raise funds to cover the $200,000 to $250,000 it will cost to clean up the fifty-acre Oceti Sacowin protest camp. Seventy-six people were arrested just last week for camping on privately owned land near the site.

As readers may anticipate, this new development is not going down easy with environmental and indigenous activists. As you may note in another of today’s newswires, the city of Seattle yesterday voted to cut ties with Wells Fargo, in part because it is a loaner on this project.—Michael Wyland