Image Credit: Aine Creedon

December 4, 2016; New York Times

More than 2,000 veterans reportedly signed up to join members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and their many supporters this past weekend as North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple’s December 5th eviction deadline loomed. The protestors were ordered to vacate their encampment, which is on Army Corps federal land close to the construction site. NPQ has been following this story for months.

To the great delight and relief of the protestors, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced on Sunday that it would not approve an easement to allow construction to continue for the final section of the $3.78 billion pipeline planned to pass under Lake Oahe, a Missouri River reservoir. Alternative routes and their environmental impact will need to be studied. The four-state, 1,172-mile Dakota Access pipeline is nearly complete. A few miles along the border the Standing Rock reservation that would tunnel under a Missouri river reservoir are all that remain to complete the project.

“The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing,” Jo-Ellen Darcy, the Army’s assistant secretary for civil works, said in a statement. The move could presage a lengthy environmental review that has the potential to block the pipeline’s construction for months or years.

Tribal leaders rejoiced, receiving the news as a victory and “the validation of months of prayer and protest.” This decision ostensibly means that the protestors can return to their homes and families and do not need to risk enduring North Dakota’s dangerously cold winter. Nevertheless, some will likely not leave. The decision announced on Sunday could change once the new administration takes office in January.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, who owns a stake in the company building the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, endorsed the completion of the pipeline last Thursday. The Trump transition team said that Trump’s support of the pipeline “has nothing to do with his personal investments and everything to do with promoting policies that benefit all Americans.” The transition team did not respond to this latest decision by the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Reaction was swift on both sides, with environmental groups like Greenpeace praising the decision. “The water protectors have done it,” a Greenpeace spokeswoman, Lilian Molina, said. “This is a monumental victory in the fight to protect indigenous rights and sovereignty.”

But Craig Stevens, a spokesman for the MAIN Coalition, a pro-infrastructure group, condemned the move as “a purely political decision that flies in the face of common sense and the rule of law.

Late last night, Energy Transfer Partners released a statement as a response, which said in part:

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.

Whatever the outcome of this contest of wills, this has been and will continue to be a testing ground for civil society, radical hope, and the courage of people from the around the world to protect hallowed ground made all the more sacred by their sacrifices.—James Schaffer