The deputy secretary of the Army will grantÂ the final permit needed for completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Army declared in a court filing Tuesday, clearing the final bureaucratic hurdle standing in the way of the massive infrastructure project.
TheÂ Armyâs intention to grant a 30-year easement under Lake Oahe, which cameÂ in a court filing over an ongoing federal environmental review of the controversial project, was immediately hailed by congressional Republicans and decried by members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and other opponentsÂ of the pipeline. In documents filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Army officials indicated that they were terminating a plan to prepare an environmental-impact statement on how the pipeline would affect land and water along its 1,170-mileÂ route.
The move, coming two weeks after President Trump instructed the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct an expedited review of the easement, underscores the new administrationâs intent to spur infrastructure development and support the fossil fuel industry. Both during the presidential campaign and since taking office, Trump has spoken of the need to accelerate domestic energy production and the construction of pipelines that can bring oil and gas to market.
While couched in dry languageâtheÂ letter from Deputy Secretary of the Army Paul D. Cramer to Rep. RaÃºl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) detailed the 7.37 acres the pipeline would traverse on federal propertyâthe easement marks a major blow to activists who had come from across the country last year to gather on the Great Plains and mark the land as the site where a tribe and its allies would defy the federal government. Those opponents argued the projectâwhich crosses four states and would carry crude oil from the rich shale oil basins of western North Dakota to the pipeline networks and refineries in the Midwestâcould damage the environment and disturb ancient burial grounds.
Construction cannot begin until the actual easement is granted, which Cramer wrote will be given to the projectâs sponsor Energy Transfer Partners no later than Wednesday afternoon. Energy Transfer Partners declined toÂ comment Thursday.
The 1,100-mile stretch running underneath Lake Oahe is one of the final parts to be built, and it will take between 60 and 80 days from the start of construction before the pipeline will become operational.
In the meantime confrontations between activists and law enforcement, who have already clashed on the proposed site ofÂ the project,Â could flare up once again. While the Standing Rock Sioux tribe has urged its supporters to go home due to worsening weather conditions, a few hundred protesters have remained. Last week, authorities arrested 74 activists who had decamped from the tribal reservation to land owned by Energy Transfer Partners.
Fights over pipeline siting has become a new front in the broader push to address climate change, with environmentalists arguing that curbing pipelines will limit the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere by restricting the extent to which fossil fuels can be extracted and burned. At the same time projects such as Dakota Access have reignited the sense of injury among many American Indians, who believe that this land belongs to them under treaties signed between them and the federal government in the 1800s.
âWe are a sovereign nation and we 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,â Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, said in a statement Tuesday. âAmericans have come together in support of the Tribe asking for a fair, balanced and lawful pipeline process. The environmental impact statement was wrongfully terminated. This pipeline was unfairly rerouted across our treaty lands. The Trump administration â yet again â is poised to set a precedent that defies the law and the will of Americans and our allies around the world.â
The tribe on Tuesday said it plans to challenge any easement decision on the grounds that the planned environmental impact statement was wrongfully terminated. In addition, tribal officials have asked a court to compel the company behind the pipeline to publicly disclose its oil spill and risk assessment records for the Dakota Access project. Ultimately, the tribe said it will seek to shut down the pipelineâs operations if it is successfully constructed.
Jan Hasselman, a lawyer with the environmental group Earthjustice, said the new administration had no right to short-circuit a process started by then-Obama administration officials to scrutinize the projectâs potential impact on critical resources along the route. Late last year, then-President Barack Obama, after weeks of protests, instructed the corps to look at different route options for the pipeline.
âThe Obama administration correctly found that the Tribeâs treaty rights needed to be respected, and that the easement should not be granted without further review and consideration of alternative crossing locations,â Hasselman said in an email. âTrumpâs reversal of that decision continues a historic pattern of broken promises to Indian Tribes and violation of Treaty rights. They will be held accountable in court.â
Backers of the pipeline, who argue that it is the most effective means of transporting crude oil extracted on the Great Plains, hailed the Armyâs decision.
âNew energy infrastructure, like the Dakota Access Pipeline, is being built with the latest safeguards and technology,â said Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) in a statement. âThe discord we have seen regarding the Dakota Access Pipeline doesnât serve the tribe, the company, the corps or any of the other stakeholders involved. Now, we all need to work together to ensure people and communities rebuild trust and peacefully resolve their differences.â
And Craig Stevens, a spokesman for the business-backed MAIN coalition, called the action âproof-positive of President Trumpâs commitment to supporting domestic energy development, including midstream infrastructure projects.Â Todayâs action sends a strong positive signal to those individuals and companies seeking to invest in the U.S. and will help strengthen our economy and create jobs.â
A Native Nations march on Washington has been planned for March 10, with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and others across the country expected to join other protesters in demonstrating against the pipeline project.
âExpect mass resistance far beyond what Trump has seen so far,â said Tom Goldsmith, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, in a statement.
Steven MufsonÂ contributed to this report.
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