Photo: Brian Klonoski / Planet Experts
Water protectors who endured rubber bullets, tear gas, concussion grenades, attack dogs, water cannons, blockades and harsh winter weather are celebrating victory against the “black snake” after the Army Corps of Engineers declined to grant an easement needed to build a controversial stretch of the Dakota Access Pipeline underneath the Missouri River.
— Ernest Scheyder (@ErnestScheyder) December 4, 2016
The Corps had previously delayed its decision on the easement, citing the need to confer with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which opposes the pipeline’s path through its sacred tribal grounds and source of drinking water.
“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,” the Army’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy said. “The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing.”
Darcy went on to say that an Environmental Impact Statement with full public input will help decide a new path for the disputed segment of pipeline.
To be clear, the 1,172 mile Dakota Acess Pipeline will still likely be completed (most of it already is). Today’s decision means that the owners of the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, will have to find another path across the Missouri River away from tribal lands.
However, in an interesting twist to the story, the company has testified that the pipeline needs to be finished and delivering oil by January 1, 2017, otherwise they risk losing shipping contracts that could jeopardize the project by making it financially unfeasible.
Passionate Demonstrators Emerge Victorious — For Now
Water protectors, supporters of indigenous rights and tribal officials responded with elation.
“We wholeheartedly support the decision of the administration and commend with the utmost gratitude the courage it took on the part of President Obama, the Army Corps, the Department of Justice and the Department of the Intertior to take steps to correct the course of history and to do the right thing,” Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II said.
Here’s the full statement:
— Bill McKibben (@billmckibben) December 4, 2016
Our friend Bernie Sanders, who has long been a supporter of the #NoDAPL movement, chimed in with some words of his own.
“I appreciate very much President Obama listening to the Native American people and millions of others who believe this pipeline should not be built,” Sanders said in a statement. “In the year 2016, we should not continue to trample on Native American sovereignty. We should not endanger the water supply of millions of people.”
The whoops and hollers of victory were tempered by whispers of caution and skepticism, signaling that perhaps the standoff at Standing Rock has only just begun.
“We are asking our supporters to keep up the pressure, because while President Obama has granted us a victory today, that victory isn’t guaranteed in the next administration,” Dallas Goldtooth, lead organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network, said in a statement. “More threats are likely in the year to come, and we cannot stop until this pipeline is completely and utterly defeated, and our water and climate are safe.”
With Trump Looming, What Will Happen?
The Army Corps of Engineers did the right thing here, but remember, President Obama and his entire administration are lame ducks. They’ll soon be replaced by Donald Trump — who has invested in Energy Transfer Partners and accepted political donations from its CEO — and his cabinet of oil tycoons and climate deniers. Realistically, what does that mean for today’s decision to halt and reroute construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline?
Beyond his financial ties to the pipeline, Trump is on record supporting its planned construction, which is why some pundits argue that the Trump administration is likely to reverse today’s decision. But Trump was elected president, not king, and walking back The Corps’ assessment won’t be so easy.
“If one agency makes detailed fact findings about how a project is not in the public interest, the next administration can’t just come in and rip it up right away,” Jan Hasselman, an attorney at Earthjustice who is representing the Standing Rock Sioux, said in an interview with Vox. “They could seek to undo it, but it would be subject to judicial review.”
In other words: A lengthy court batle.
This is big-government decision-making at its worst. I look forward to putting this anti-energy presidency behind us. https://t.co/Qu0nFTmGZv
— Paul Ryan (@SpeakerRyan) December 5, 2016
Congressional Republicans eager to undo what they see as Obama’s era of overregulation may also enter the fray. Some, like Rep. Kevin Cramer, who is North Dakota’s only representative in the House, are already rarin’ to go.
“I hoped even a lawless president wouldn’t continue to ignore the rule of law,” Cramer said in a statement, referring to President Obama. “In my conversation with Assistant Secretary of the Army Jo-Ellen Darcy today, she was unable to give any legal reasons for the decision and could not answer any questions about rerouting the pipeline.”
Cramer, who was an early Trump supporter and is in the running for Energy secretary, seemed hopeful that Trump would reverse The Corps’ decision.
“I’m encouraged we will restore law and order next month, when we get a President who will not thumb his nose at the rule of law,” he said.
And don’t forget: Energy Transfer Partners still has its day in court, too. In mid-November, the company asked a judge to allow them to disregard The Corps decision to stop construction on the pipeline. That ruling, which has yet to be handed down, could shake everything up yet again.
But now is the time to celebrate what once seemed an unlikely victory, while, of course, quietly preparing for the next battle, which is all but assured.
“No win is ever permanent, but this is a testament to amazing organizing,” 350.org founder Bill McKibben said.