In a major victory for thousands of protesters and Indigenous People, the Department of the Army announced it will not approve an easement that would allow the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline to cross under Lake Oahe in North Dakota, the Army’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Works announced today.
Jo-Ellen Darcy said she based her decision on a need to explore alternate routes for the Dakota Access Pipeline crossing.
In mid-November, the office had announced 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 repeatedly expressed concerns about the risk that a pipeline rupture or spill could pose to its water supply and treaty rights. They have been joined by thousands of protesters over the last several months, resulting in arrests and complaints about police brutality.
“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,” Ms. Darcy said. “The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing.”
Ms. Darcy said that the consideration of alternative routes would be best accomplished through an Environmental Impact Statement with full public input and analysis.
The 1,172-mile pipeline is being built to carry Bakken oil from North Dakota to an existing oil terminal in Illinois. Most of it is completed, except for a 20-mile section near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.
In a statement, Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II applauded the news.
“We wholeheartedly support the decision of the administration and commend with the utmost gratitude the courage it took on the part of President Obama, the Army Corps, the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior to take steps to correct the course of history and to do the right thing,” he said.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and all of Indian Country “will be forever grateful to the Obama Administration for this historic decision,” Mr. Archambault added.
But the biggest question is whether this is only a temporary victory. The President-elect has said, as recently as last week, he supports completing the pipeline. While the Army looks for alternative routes, the Trump administration could ultimately decide to allow the original route to be completed – though it would likely trigger protests and the threat of violence.
There was no immediate statement issued by the President-elect or his team.
Statement from Earth Day Co-Founder and Former Congressman Pete McCloskey:
Earth Day co-founder and co-author of the 1973 Endangered Species Act
Pete McCloskey was among the first Bay Area environmental lawyers to go to risk arrest at Standing Rock and offer legal assistance to the Havasupai Indians Havasupai Indian Delegation
Statement by Pete McCloskey: “My wife Helen and I drove up to Standing Rock on September 28th to offer the Sioux leaders the pro bono legal assistance of my law firm, Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy of Burlingame, California.
“While we were there Indians were arriving from tribes all over the world. There were two young native girls from Iceland who sang a wonderful song of their tribe. The next day, my 89th birthday, I told the leaders that ‘this was the happiest day of my life, and it was an honor to be with them.’ (Helen had $1,000 in bills in an envelope to bail me out when I got arrested.”
“But today, December 3rd, may be the most significant event in American history since June 25, 1973, when Congress ordered President Nixon to halt the devastating bombing of Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia.
“The credit should go to that young Hispanic combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who asked 500 fellow vets to go with him to Standing Rock on Monday, December 5th, the day the Corps of Engineers had announced they would tear down the tents and tepees of the hundreds of Indian tribe, and turn the occupants out into South Dakota’s 20 below zero temperatures and snowstorm. Over 2,000 vets responded to his request that they form a human wall between the water cannons and rubber bullets of the police and hired security men.
“Blessed be those vets.
“So the Corps will now re-examine the pipeline route and will halt the construction on Monday, December 5th. There can still be justice for the Indians after 165 years of injustice and broken treaties.”
Statement From Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Police Violence
Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch today released the following video statement after phone calls to Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman David Archambault II, in which she discussed ways to reduce the potential for violence surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline protests and to begin a dialogue that fosters mutual understanding and public safety:
“As winter begins to take hold in the Great Plains, I want to take a moment to speak to you about the protests surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline – and about the Justice Department’s ongoing commitment to supporting local law enforcement; to defending constitutionally guaranteed speech; and to maintaining strong and vibrant relationships with American Indians and Alaska Natives.
“For the last several months, the Department of Justice has been monitoring the situation in North Dakota closely, and we remain in close communication with law enforcement officials, tribal representatives, and protesters in an effort to reduce tensions and foster dialogue. We continue to support the protestors’ constitutional right to free speech, and we expect everyone involved to exercise restraint, to refrain from violence and to express their views peacefully.
“Let me stress that violence is never the answer and that all of us have a responsibility to find common ground around a peaceful resolution where all voices are heard. Our first concern is the safety of everyone in the area – law enforcement officers, residents and protesters alike.
“To that end, the Department of Justice has offered community policing resources to local law enforcement in North Dakota, and we have made strenuous efforts to open lines of communication and dialogue between law enforcement, tribal leaders and protesters. This includes the active engagement of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services – or COPS Office – and the deployment of conciliators from the Community Relations Service to North Dakota. Those efforts will continue in the days ahead.
“In addition, today, I have directed senior department officials from the Office of Tribal Justice, the COPS Office, the Community Relations Service and the local U.S. Attorney to continue to address concerns that have been raised; to re-deploy to the region as needed; and to help support constitutional law enforcement, prevent violence, and to preserve peace and liberty in the protest area.
“We recognize the strong feelings that exist about the Dakota Access Pipeline – feelings that in many instances arise from the complicated and painful history between the federal government and American Indians. We will remain committed to working with all stakeholders to enforce the law; to maintain the peace; and to reach a just solution to this challenging situation.”
The Attorney General’s video statement regarding the Dakota Access Pipeline protests can be viewed here.
—David M. Greenwald reporting