A decision from the Army Corps of Engineers on Sunday afternoon left thousands of protesters in North Dakota hesitant but pleased. Jo-Ellen Darcy, the Army’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Works, announced that the Corps would not allow the Dakota Access Pipeline the necessary easement to cross under Lake Oahe. Instead, an Environmental Impact Statement, with full public input and analysis, would be completed to determine an alternate route.
“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,” Darcy said. “The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing.”
Despite the decision by the Army Corps of Engineers, the pipeline’s future remains uncertain. A post on the Sacred Stone Camp’s website shows that even the protesters understand that with a Trump administration about to begin, Sunday’s victory is temporary at best.
“The Trump administration could easily approve the project early next year,” the post reads. “While this is clearly a victory, the battle is not ‘over’.”
The post continues by asking supporters to participate in making December a month of “#NoDAPL Action.” In addition, they presented a list of 10 questions for the coming weeks. Although most of the questions focused on clarifying the extent of the Environmental Impact Statement, they also introduced the idea that the nearly-completed pipeline should be stopped altogether. “Will a ‘no-build’ option also be considered?,” the protesters ask.
In a statement released late Sunday, Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the pipeline, expressed frustration with the administration’s last minute decision, which it blamed on politics.
“The White House’s directive today to the Corps for further delay is 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 statement read.
“For more than three years now, Dakota Access Pipeline has done nothing but play by the rules. The Army Corps of Engineers agrees, and has said so publicly and in federal court filings,” it continued.
The statement reiterated the various environmental filings Energy Transfer Partners made in the process of receiving approval from the five states involved in the project, as well as the two court cases which found that the company had fulfilled the necessary legal requirements to be granted the easement.
Supporters of the project remain hopeful that it will receive speedy approval under a new Trump administration. Trump spokesman Jason Miller made this explicit on Monday, telling the press that the new president supported completion of the project.
“With regard to the Dakota Access Pipeline, that’s something that we support construction of and we’ll review the full situation when we’re in the White House to make appropriate determination at that time,” said Miller.
Already, Trump has met with North Dakota legislators. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp met with President-elect Trump last Friday for more than an hour, in a discussion that included the Dakota Access Pipeline. However, she does not expect any shifts in the pipeline’s status before inauguration day.
“The incoming administration already stated its support for the project and the courts have already stated twice that it appeared the Corps followed the required process in considering the permit,” said Heitkamp in a statement. “For the next month and a half, nothing about this project will change.”
North Dakota Congressman Kevin Cramer agreed with her assessment, but looked forward to the start of a new administration.
“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,” said Cramer.
Despite the support of the incoming Trump administration, the project still has several hurdles to overcome. Without the easement, the pipeline will not be in operation by its January 1, 2017 deadline. At this date, oil producers currently under contract to ship oil through the pipeline will be allowed the option of voiding or renegotiating the agreement.