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Congress Members Send Letter Urging Obama to Stop Controversial Pipeline

The letter urges the president to withdraw federal permits "like you did with the rejection of the Keystone Pipeline."
Image: Protesters demonstrate against the Energy Transfer Partners' Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in Cannon Ball, North Dakota
FILE PHOTO -- Protesters demonstrate against the Energy Transfer Partners' Dakota Access oil pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S. September 9, 2016.ANDREW CULLEN / Reuters

Nearly two dozen members of Congress sent a letter to the White House on Thursday requesting that the Obama administration intervene to stop construction of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota.

The two-page letter, co-signed by 19 members, was a direct call to action to an administration that has been the most progressive in the nation's history in its efforts to address issues affecting Native Americans. The letter's co-signers include Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), who are influential among progressive Democrats in Congress.

The members urged President Barack Obama to withdraw federal permits for the Dakota Access Pipeline "like you did with the rejection of the Keystone Pipeline."

"You can and should extend your historic legacy," the letter stated. "The pipeline poses significant threats to the environment, public health, and tribal and human rights."

The letter came just days after the president addressed the standoff at the White House Tribal Nations Conference, where he said the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and over 300 Indian Nations —who have for weeks protested the pipeline at Cannon, Ball, North Dakota — were "making their voices heard."

Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II told NBC News that the letter demonstrated the "strong support from the United States Congress for protecting our water and honoring our sovereign rights."

Archambault thanked Congressman Grijalva, Ranking Member on the Committee for Natural Resources, for his efforts to rally support from his Democratic colleagues.

"The U.S Army Corps of Engineers violated the law when it green-lighted construction of the oil pipeline without consulting with the Tribe," said Archambault. "We know it, millions of our supporters agree, and now we have the strength of Congress behind us.”

Related: Dakota Pipeline Company Buys Ranch Near Sioux Protest Site

Members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe see the $3.7 billion pipeline, which would transport 470,000 barrels of oil a day across four states, as an environmental and cultural threat to their homeland. They say an oil spill would permanently contaminate the reservation's water supply and that construction of the pipeline would destroy lands where many of their ancestors are buried.

The pipeline would come within a half-mile of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, which straddles the North and South Dakota border.

The project is financed by the Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, which claims it will bring millions of dollars into local economies and create an estimated 8,000 to 12,000 construction jobs.

An Energy Transfer Partners spokesperson declined to comment.

Related: Pipeline Company Says Contamination Worries 'Unfounded'

The protests forced a halt in construction last month after the tribe sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has jurisdiction over the land, arguing that it did not adequately consult with them before granting Energy Transfer Partners fast track approval in July. The Army Corps of Engineers said it did not oppose the suspension.

On Sept. 16, a federal appeals court ruled to officially halt the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline that traverses Sioux land to give the court more time as it assessed concerns that the pipeline could destroy sacred sites and burial grounds. A federal appeals court is expected to rule on the pipeline's fate on Oct. 11.