Lake Oahe easement-DAPL

Courtesy Dr0ne2bewild Shiyé Bidziil/Vimeo

Energy Transfer Partners drill pad for tunneling under the Missouri River at Lake Oahe, in November 2016.

Army Corps Approves DAPL Lake Oahe Easement

Standing Rock Sioux lawyer vows to hold Trump administration accountable

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), operating under instructions from the Trump White House, has approved a final easement necessary for completion of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The announcement of the Lake Oahe easement came by way of a February 7 filing in the U.S. District Court of Washington, D.C.

The easement, granted to Energy Transfer Partners, would allow construction of the pipeline under Lake Oahe, near the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota. Building could begin as soon as February 8 and could be finished as early as April 8, according to court proceedings.

Lake Oahe is a sacred site and drinking water source for the tribe, which has long protested Energy Transfer Partners’ plan to build a pipeline there, saying that tribal sovereignty, federal trust and treaty responsibilities to the tribe, and federal-tribal consultation would be upended in the process. The company was denied the Lake Oahe easement on December 4 under the Obama administration, which cited environmental concerns; and the Army Corps had filed a notice in the Federal Register on January 18 saying it was conducting an environmental impact statement (EIS) study to determine possibilities for new areas for the pipeline to be built.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe declared it was “undaunted” by the granting of the Lake Oahe easement and vowed to continue fighting through legal means.

“The drinking water of millions of Americans is now at risk,” said Standing Rock Sioux Chairman David Archambault II in a statement. “We 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.”

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The DAPL EIS process was effectively overridden by a January 24 presidential memorandum issued by President Donald Trump, who insisted that the pipeline be built as soon as possible. Trump at the same time vowed to revive the Keystone XL pipeline.

“Americans have come together in support of the Tribe asking for a fair, balanced and lawful pipeline process,” Archambault said. “The environmental impact statement was wrongfully terminated. This pipeline was unfairly rerouted across our treaty lands. The Trump administration—yet again—is poised to set a precedent that defies the law and the will of Americans and our allies around the world.”

On January 31, Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND), new chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs as of last month, released a statement saying that he had spoken to Vice President Mike Pence and Acting Secretary of the Army Robert Speer, and Speer “informed us that he has directed the Army Corps of Engineers to proceed with the easement needed to complete the Dakota Access Pipeline.”

Speer said in a February 7 statement that “the decision was made based on a sufficient amount of information already available which supported approval to grant the easement request” and as a result he “made the choice to terminate the notice of intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement.”

Trump’s memo, combined with Hoeven’s statement, led to new protests at Standing Rock, some on private land, where 76 people were arrested on February 2, including ICMN journalist Jenni Monet, who was reporting on the protest at the time.

Energy Transfer Partners estimates in court filings that it will be able to complete and start operating the pipeline within 60 to 90 days from the Lake Oahe easement’s granting. If built in totality, DAPL will measure almost 1,200 miles and its total cost will be $3.8 billion. Key members of the Trump administration have reportedly invested in the past in the project, and Kelcy Warren, CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, was a contributor to the Trump campaign for president.

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Lawyers for Standing Rock were prepared for the decision, which they expected to be coming by the end of the week after statements made by Army Corps lawyers in D.C. District Court on February 6.

“The Obama administration correctly found that the tribe’s treaty rights needed to be respected, and that the easement should not be granted without further review and consideration of alternative crossing locations,” said Jan Hasselman, a lawyer with Earth Justice, the law firm  representing Standing Rock, after the Army Corps’ decision on the Lake Oahe easement was announced.

“Trump’s reversal of that decision continues a historic pattern of broken promises to Indian tribes and violation of treaty rights,” Hasselman added. “They will be held accountable in court.”

The next status hearing overseeing DAPL is scheduled for February 13 in D.C. District Court before Judge James E. Boasberg.

Hoeven released a statement soon after the decision, supporting it.

“The easement will enable the company to complete the project,” Hoeven said in his statement. “New energy infrastructure, like the Dakota Access Pipeline, is being built with the latest safeguards and technology.”

Commenting on the protests of the pipeline, Hoeven noted that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council has asked protesters to exit a recent campsite on private land, but he failed to mention the recent arrest of an ICMN journalist there who was covering the protest in an official capacity. The tribe also requested additional Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) law enforcement officers to assist at the protest site, according to a BIA news release issued last week.

“The discord we have seen regarding the Dakota Access Pipeline doesn’t serve the tribe, the company, the Corps or any of the other stakeholders involved,” Hoeven added. “Now, we all need to work together to ensure people and communities rebuild trust and peacefully resolve their differences.”

Leaders from several Sioux nations have expressed concern that Hoeven, chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, is so obviously pro-DAPL development, and some believe he has not consulted properly with Standing Rock leadership before making his recent statements.

Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-CA), said in a statement that he was “deeply troubled that the Army Corps of Engineers has confirmed they will grant an easement for the Lake Oahe crossing of the Dakota Access Pipeline, meaning construction could begin imminently.

“Rushing this decision flies in the face of tribal sovereignty, and the legally-mandated meaningful consultation requirements,” Ruiz said in his statement. “It also completely ignores the need for an Environmental Impact Statement to ensure construction mitigates the risk of a spill, which could be devastating to the health, economic well-being and environmental future of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and local tribes.”

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Army Corps Approves DAPL Lake Oahe Easement

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