The Department of the Army’s decision not to approve an easement that would allow the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline to cross under Lake Oahe in North Dakota has been welcomed by Chairman Harold Frazier of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.
However, the tribe and other anti-pipeline allies are urging continued vigilance in the fight against the pipeline.
The Army's Assistant Secretary for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy says she based her decision on a need to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing. Her office announced on November 14 that it was delaying the decision on the easement to allow for discussions with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, whose reservation lies 0.5 miles south of the proposed crossing.
Tribal officials have expressed repeated concerns over the risk that a pipeline rupture or spill could pose to its water supply and treaty rights.
"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 says. "The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing."
Darcy says that the consideration of alternative routes would be best accomplished through an Environmental Impact Statement with full public input and analysis.
Chairman Frazier has responded with gratitude to the water protectors and their allies who fought for the decision. He says, “Thank you from the very bottom of my heart to the water protectors, whose peaceful and prayerful resistance and courage in the face of brutality and ignorance made this day possible.
“I am so proud today of our native people and our non-native allies. Creator put us on this earth to protect Unci Maka (Grandmother Earth) and today we have achieved a victory for our Grandmother Earth.”
Chairman Frazier has also commended the Obama administration for the decision. “I thank President Barack Obama and the United States for this historic decision that will do much to restore the faith of the Lakota people in the country that has treated us so dishonourably for so long.”
Chairman Frazier also says the work of the water protectors is not over as the Tribe expects Dakota Access to litigate this issue.
The legal team of Fredrick, Peebles and Morgan have issued a statement on behalf of the tribe which reads, “It is not clear exactly what the review process for the easement will look like going forward, but it is certain that Dakota Access will challenge it in federal court and the Tribe is prepared to fight back.
“It appears that the Corps will be actively considering alternative routes, and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe will insist on being full and active participants in consultation on that… The tribe intends to continue providing all the evidence and argument to show why the United States should not approve any alternative that jeopardizes our treaty-derived right to clean water or our sacred sites.”
However, Energy Transfer Partners, L.P. and Sunoco Logistics Partners L.P. have responded in a statement indicating their intention to fight the ruling and to ‘complete construction of the pipeline without any additional rerouting in and around Lake Oahe’.
The statement describes the Department of the Army’s move as a ‘purely political action’ and accuses the Obama administration of delaying any proper resolution to the issue until Obama leaves office in January 2017.
The statement reads, “In spite of consistently stating at every turn that the permit for the crossing of the Missouri River at Lake Oahe granted in July 2016, comported with all legal requirements, including the use of an environmental assessment, rather than an environmental impact statement, the Army Corps now seeks to engage in additional review and analysis of alternative locations for the pipeline.
“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 favour of currying favour with a narrow and extreme political constituency.”
Meanwhile, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders- a vocal opponent of the pipeline- has voiced his support for the ruling, "I appreciate very much President Obama listening to the Native American people and millions of others who believe this pipeline should not be built.
“In the year 2016, we should not continue to trample on Native American sovereignty. We should not endanger the water supply of millions of people. We should not become more dependent on fossil fuel and accelerate the planetary crisis of climate change. Our job now is to transform our energy system away from fossil fuels, not to produce more greenhouse gas emissions."
Despite the onset of winter and the seemingly positive outcome Chairman Frazier says the water protectors have no plans to vacate the Standing Rock camp at this point.
“Today we won the battle,” says Frazier, “But our fight is not yet over. While we will savour this victory, we must continue to prepare for the long road ahead of us. The court battle will continue and the political battle will wage on. But we will never stop fighting for our Unci Maka.”