Breaking News Emails
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will grant a permit request to complete the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Army said in a statement Tuesday.
The 30-year easement will allow drilling under Lake Oahe, which runs from Pierre, South Dakota, into North Dakota, and the Army indicated that it will not draft a previously called-for environmental impact statement.
The controversial pipeline, which protesters and environmental activists say has destroyed cultural sites and will harm the surrounding areas — potentially contaminating the drinking water of indigenous people living in the pipeline's path — has spurred months of protest, including camps maintained in a sub-zero North Dakota winter.
The pipeline's supporters, meanwhile, argue that the project will provide jobs and inject money into local economies.
According to court filings obtained by NBC News, the Army Corps of Engineers intends to waive a two-week congressional notification period, which could allow construction on the pipeline to resume immediately. With about 1.5 miles left unbuilt in the 1,172 mile pipeline, construction could be complete in a matter of days.
The decision comes weeks after President Donald Trump signed a presidential memorandum aimed at advancing the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines.
Among other things, the memorandum called for a re-examination of a Dec. 4 memorandum halting construction, an expedited review and approval for easements, and other requests submitted by Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners, the companies bankrolling the $3.7 billion Dakota pipeline.
The final easement for the pipeline has yet to be issued, and the Army's announcement Tuesday was largely preparatory, Acting Army Secretary Robert Speer said in a statement.
"Today's announcement will allow for the final step, which is granting of the easement," Speer said. "Once that is done, we will have completed all the tasks in the Presidential Memorandum of January 24, 2017."
The announcement was quickly and widely criticized by activist groups for appearing to support business interests over indigenous communities and the environment.
"The Trump Administration has decided that profits for the corporate elite are more important than sovereign rights of Indigenous communities, clean water, the climate, and the voices of millions of people worldwide who have called for a halt on the Dakota Access Pipeline," said Mary Sweeters, a U.S. climate campaigner for Greenpeace.
Others pledged resistance.
In a statement, Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, said Trump ought to expect mass resistance.
"The granting of this easement goes against protocol, it goes against legal process, it disregards more than 100,000 comments already submitted as part of the not-yet-completed environmental review process — all for the sake of Donald Trump's billionaire big oil cronies," Goldtooth said. "And, it goes against the treaty rights of the entire Seven Councils Fires of the Sioux Nations."
A spokesperson for Energy Transfer Partners declined to comment on the Army's decision.
In a statement to NBC News, Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II said the tribe remained undaunted.
"Americans have come together in support of the tribe asking for a fair, balanced and lawful pipeline process," Archambault said. "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."
Archambault said the tribe has called for a national rally March 10 in Washington, D.C., to protest the decision.
"We call on the Native nations of the United States to stand together, unite and fight back," he said.
Likewise, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe said it "fully intends to fight" until all legal avenues have been exhausted.
"While the Federal government chooses to disregard the laws made to govern themselves, we will respect those laws and continue to legally resist the destruction of homes, people, and culture," the tribe said in a statement Tuesday night.
For Allison Renville, an activist from the Lakota nation who spent months at the Oceti Sakowin Camp in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, the decision to grant the easement was "just another reminder that history has a tendency to repeat itself" in the nation's treatment of Native Americans.
"Our people are continuously brushed aside for an industry advancement that will only line the pockets of the top 1 percent, " Renville told NBC News. "All the while, this new administration continues to violate our treaty rights and the right to clean water for everyone."
The move even earned rebuke from Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Natural Resources.
"Before the Women's March and before thousands of people protested at airports, the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies were camping in the freezing cold to defend their rights," Grijalva said. "The Obama administration heard those concerns and agreed to take a step back. This administration is ignoring them."
Craig Stevens, a spokesman for the Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now, a pro-fossil fuel industry group, disputed most pipeline opponents' points, calling Trump's memorandum proof of his "commitment to supporting domestic energy development."
Stevens also touted the relative safety of pipelines, disputed tribal community assertions that indigenous peoples were not included in the pipeline's planning, and claimed that the pipeline did not disrupt areas of cultural significance.
"Today's action sends a strong positive signal to those individuals and companies seeking to invest in the U.S. and will help strengthen our economy and create jobs," Stevens said.