In doing so, the Corps recognizes the demands of the “water protectors,” the indigenous and non-native people who have assembled in protest camps at Cannon Ball, North Dakota, since the spring. The protests had charged the Army Corps never investigated the full environmental risks of the pipeline’s construction.
Cheers and cries of joy went up when Dave Archambault II, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, announced the Army Corps’s decision to the protesters. “You all did that. Your presence has brought the attention of the world,” he told the group, according to The New York Times.
“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 Interior to take steps to correct the course of history and to do the right thing,” Archambault said in a further statement.
Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the pipeline, calls the decision “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 firm says that previous filings by the Army Corps, and two federal court rulings, support that it “played by the rules” with the pipeline. And it adds that it “fully expects 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.”
Upon completion, the $3.7-billion Dakota Access pipeline would stretch more than 1,100 miles, linking the oil fields of North Dakota’s Bakken formation with a river terminal in southern Illinois. Energy Transfer Partners sought to avoid the acrimonious public battles that doomed the Keystone XL pipeline by running the Dakota Access pipeline entirely across private land. This freed the firm from seeking public permits in some states. But the pipeline still required the federal government’s permission to drill beneath the Missouri River, a federal waterway.
Jim Dalrymple, the governor of North Dakota, called the Army Corps’s decision a “serious mistake.”
“This purely political decision flies in the face of common sense and the rule of law,” said Craig Stevens, a spokesman for the MAIN Coalition, an industry group that primarily exists to defend the pipeline. “Unfortunately, it’s not surprising that the president would, again, use executive fiat in an attempt to enhance his legacy among the extreme left.”
But rule of law is a tricky thing in this case—and, indeed, in all cases where tribal and federal claims conflict.
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The land that the Dakota Access pipeline crosses today is considered to be private land, but it was granted to Sioux tribes in the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie. The status of this treaty remains contested. Since the middle of the 20th century, the U.S. government has sought to allay broken treaties with all Native nations by compensating them for lost land. The Sioux have declined to accept any payment, which is why a payment of more than $1 billion sits in federal accounts.