Protesters fear Dakota pipeline’s fate will fall to stakeholder Trump
The Japan Times AFP-JIJI, Reuters Dec 6, 2016
A student walks into the school at the Oceti Sakowin camp where people have gathered to protest the Dakota Access pipeline near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, Thaursday. The school teaches on average 20 students a day in the traditional Lakota curriculum as well as math, reading and writing. | AP
CANNON BALL, NORTH DAKOTA – Native Americans and their supporters expressed cautious optimism Monday after the U.S. Army nixed plans for a controversial oil pipeline crossing in North Dakota, with many fearing their victory could be short lived.
While the decision marks a win for the months-long protest movement that stood its ground even as the freezing winter set in, it could be undone when Donald Trump moves into the White House in January if his administration chooses to grant the pipeline the final permit it needs.
“There are still some remaining questions,” said Dallas Goldtooth, one of the leaders of the protest camp in the North Dakota plains, where thousands have camped to block the planned route of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
“The biggest one of all is to see what a Trump administration will do,” Goldtooth told AFP, calling the mood among Native Americans and the environmentalists backing their campaign “very, very cautious.”
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is concerned about potential water pollution and says the pipeline’s route endangers areas with sacred historic artifacts.
But President-elect Trump’s transition spokesman said Monday the incoming administration was supportive of the 1,172-mile (1,886-km) oil pipeline, which would snake through four U.S. states.
“That’s something we support construction of,” communications director Jason Miller told reporters on Monday.
“We’ll review the full situation when we’re in the White House, and can make appropriate determinations at that time.”
The Republican billionaire, who reportedly owns a stake in the pipeline’s operator, Energy Transfer Partners, planned to meet Monday with North Dakota congressman Kevin Cramer.
Cramer was critical of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ decision Sunday to deny the final permit necessary to complete the project in North Dakota.
“(The) unfortunate decision sends a very chilling signal to others who want to build infrastructure in this country,” Cramer said in a statement.
Trump’s transition team has also met with North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven, another pipeline supporter.
“Mr. Trump expressed his support for the Dakota Access Pipeline, which has met or exceeded all environmental standards set forth by four states and the Army Corps of Engineers,” Hoeven said last week in a statement.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, an engineering and construction management agency that is in charge of federal waterways, decided Sunday against granting a permit to bury the pipeline under the Missouri River, the source of drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux.
“The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing,” Jo-Ellen Darcy, the U.S. Army’s assistant secretary for civil works, said in a statement.
Energy Transfer Partners criticized Barack Obama’s administration, calling the Army’s decision “purely political.”
“Over the last four months the Administration has demonstrated by its action and inaction that it intended to delay a decision in this matter until President Obama is out of office,” the company said in a statement.
Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault insisted that the tribe was not opposed to the pipeline, just its route, saying he hoped the incoming Trump administration and other elected officials “respect this decision and understand the complex process that led us to this point.”
“We are not opposed to energy independence, economic development, or national security concerns but we must ensure that these decisions are made with the considerations of our indigenous peoples,” he said in a statement.
The conflict between the tribe and pipeline operators Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners has galvanized North American native tribes and supporters, who have camped in the thousands near the construction site, some since April, in an effort to block it.
The standoff has prompted violent clashes with law enforcement, as well as sympathetic protests nationwide, with celebrities, politicians and environmental activists joining the cause.
Some 2,000 U.S. military veterans joined the protest over the weekend in a symbolically important move before a deadline for demonstrators to vacate the area on Monday.
On Monday morning, the mood at the protest camp was muted after a prior day of celebration.
“Everybody is well aware that the fight is far from over. But it’s a tremendous moment for this campaign,” Goldtooth said.
Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault said in an interview with Reuters on Monday that he hopes to speak with Trump about the Dakota Access Pipeline.
He said non-Sioux protesters could go home because no action was likely until late January after Trump takes office.
“Nothing will happen this winter,” Archambault said. “The current administration did the right thing and we need to educate the incoming administration and help them understand the right decision was made.”
The company building the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, said late on Sunday that it had no plans to reroute the line, and expected to complete the project.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said on Sunday it rejected an application for the pipeline to tunnel under Lake Oahe, a reservoir formed by a dam on the Missouri River.
Native Americans and activists protesting the project have argued that the pipeline would damage sacred lands and could contaminate the tribe’s water source.
Late on Sunday, Energy Transfer Partners said in a joint statement with its partner Sunoco Logistics Partners that it does not intend to reroute the line and called the Obama administration’s decision a “political action.”
Protesters at the Oceti Sakowin camp in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, were upbeat after the Army Corps of Engineers announcement but expressed trepidation that the celebration would be short-lived.
“This is a temporary celebration. I think this is just a rest,” Charlotte Bad Cob, 30, of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, said on Sunday. “With a new government it could turn and we could be at it again.”
Several veterans at the camp told Reuters they thought Sunday’s decision was a tactic to get protesters to leave. They said they had no plans to leave because they anticipate heated opposition from Energy Transfer Partners and the incoming administration.
The pipeline is complete except for a 1-mile (1.61-km)segment that was to run under Lake Oahe, which required permission from federal authorities.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it would analyze possible alternate routes, but any other route is likely to cross the Missouri River.
Tom Goldtooth, a member of the Lakota people from Minnesota and co-founder of Indigenous Environmental Network, said he expected Trump to try to reverse the decision.
“I think we’re going to be in this for the long haul. That’s what my fear is,” he said.
The chief executive of ETP, Kelcy Warren, donated to Trump’s campaign, while the president-elect has investments in ETP and Phillips 66, another partner in the project.
As of Trump’s mid-2016 financial disclosure form, his stake in ETP was between $15,000 and $50,000, down from between $500,000 and $1 million in mid-2015. He had between $100,000 and $250,000 in shares of Phillips, according to federal forms.