The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced on Sunday that it would not grant an easement to Energy Transfer Partners for the corporation's Dakota Access Pipeline to cross under a Missouri River reservoir, resulting in celebration among water protectors at Standing Rock. However, according to the Standing Rock Medic & Healer Council, the water protectors have no plans to leave their camps. This is because the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline is not over yet.
The Army Corps said that it would undertake an environmental impact statement, in which it would investigate possible alternative routes for the pipeline. However, the pipeline is already close to completion, and the EIS does not necessarily mean the pipeline won't ultimately be completed on its original route under Lake Oahe. The EIS could also take a long time, which means that President-elect Donald Trump will likely assume the presidency before it is completed. So what does that mean for the pipeline?
Earlier this year, Energy Transfer Partners issued court complaints that the pipeline would be jeopardized if it was not completed by Jan. 1, 2017 — the date that its shipper contracts would expire. Meanwhile, Trump recently said that he was in support of the pipeline and wanted to see it completed, though he argued that this decision had nothing to do with his own personal investments. But once Trump takes office, Vox reported that it won't actually be that easy for Trump to undo the Obama administration's decision through executive action alone.
“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, told Vox. “They could seek to undo it, but it would be subject to judicial review.”
But this doesn't mean that the pipeline is dead, or that Trump and the Republicans won't try to find other ways to ensure its completion. For one thing, while it would be illegal for Energy Transfer Partners to drill under the Missouri following the Army Corps' announcement, it is possible that the company will do so anyway and then confront whatever penalties they incur rather than lose their shipper contracts altogether. It is also possible, then, that the Trump administration could minimize the penalties faced by the company. Another path pipeline-backers could follow would be to push the GOP-controlled Congress to fast-track the pipeline so that it is completed before the New Year, given that Republicans like Paul Ryan have already condemned the Obama administration's decision.
It is clear that Dakota Access Pipeline supporters are holding out for the Trump administration. According to The New York Times, Craig Stevens, a spokesman for pro-infrastructure group MAIN Coalition, said in a statement that the Army Corps' refusal to grant an easement was “a purely political decision that flies in the face of common sense and the rule of law.”
Unfortunately, it’s not surprising that the president would, again, use executive fiat in an attempt to enhance his legacy among the extreme left. With President-elect Trump set to take office in 47 days, we are hopeful that this is not the final word on the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The Times also reported that the Trump administration could ultimately choose to allow the original pipeline route, so it seems that for the moment, this decision is anything but final. That being said, it is certainly a victory for the water protectors at Standing Rock, who have spent months camped out in harsh temperatures and in the face of aggression from local law enforcement to defend their water and sacred land. The EIS marks a delay, and the water protectors know that. So while now is a time to celebrate, it is also time for the fight against the pipeline to continue.