By BRANDI BUCHMAN and BRITAIN EAKIN
WASHINGTON (CN) – The Standing Rock Sioux and their supporters across the nation celebrated Sunday when the Army Corps of Engineers said it would not issue the final permit needed to drill the Dakota Access oil pipeline near tribal land but would look for another route.
The Corps of Engineers’ refusal to grant the final permit that would have allowed construction of the pipeline beneath lake Oahe in North Dakota, is expected to set off an environmental review that could block or delay the pipeline for a year or more.
The easement approval had been in limbo since Nov. 14 when the Corps of Engineers announced it would consider delaying action in order to hold talks with the Sioux tribe.
The Standing Rock reservation sits only a half mile from the proposed crossing. Tribe members and thousands of protestors have gathered for months at the construction site arguing that the pipeline endangers their water supply and sacred sites.
The easement was denied one day before the Corps of Engineers had said it would cut off access to protestors’ camps in light of North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s evacuation order.
The governor cited dangerously cold weather as the reason for his order.
In a statement Sunday, Jo-Ellen Darcy, the Corp of Engineers’ assistant secretary for civil works, said it reached its decision “to explore alternate routes for the Dakota Access pipeline crossing” after “more heightened analysis.”
“After careful review and consideration … I have concluded that a decision on whether to authorize the Dakota Access pipeline to cross Lake Oahe at the proposed location merits additional analysis, more rigorous exploration and evaluation of reasonable siting alternatives and greater public and tribal participation and comments [required under] the National Environmental Protection Act,” Darcy said.
According to the statement, an environmental impact study will be conducted which will take “robust consideration of alternative locations” for the pipeline crossing of the Missouri River, specifically, a crossing “that was considered roughly ten miles north of Bismarck,” Darcy said.
The study would also include a “detailed discussion on the potential risk of an oil spill and the potential impacts to Lake Oahe, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s water intakes, and the Tribe’s water rights as well as treaty fishing and hunting rights.”
The 1,172-mile pipeline is projected to transport nearly a half million barrels of oil per day, with a capacity as high as 570,000 barrels per day.
Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners, the builders of the pipeline, issued a brief statement on Sunday evening, calling the move a “purely political action.”
“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 favor of currying favor with a narrow and extreme political constituency,” a statement by Energy Transfer Partners said.
U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota offered his take on the halted bid, telling The New York Times Monday that he “can’t wait for the adults to be in charge on January 20,” a reference to Donald Trump’s inauguration.
During a small gathering outside the capitol Monday afternoon, Congressman Raul Grijalva thanked President Obama for denying an easement permit needed to continue construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline near Standing Rock Sioux tribal land.
“His legacy and respecting and defending native peoples in this country will be a standard that other presidents will have to live up to,” the Democratic lawmaker said.
Grijalva also thanked the tribes and others who supported them in their fight to stop the project from proceeding.
“It’s a historic day for Standing Rock Sioux and for indigenous peoples, not only here in the United States but around the world,” he said.
Grijalva called it a victory against greed, and a victory for peace and prayerful resistance.
“Above all, it’s a victory against the past – the indignities, the racism and discrimination, the broken promises, the neglect – the historic behavior of this government,” he told the crowd of about 40.
While Grijalva acknowledged the momentous occasion, he highlighted the need to prepare for the incoming administration, and had a message for president-elect Donald Trump.
“This victory that we are celebrating is a victory that will not be undone,” he said. He lauded the resilience, resistance and courage demonstrated at Standing Rock.
It “is not something that happened momentarily – it is a unifying of purpose, it is a unifying of nations,” he said.
“And all of us who are allies to this cause will need to continue to be part of protecting, defending the self-determination of Indian country, the sovereignty of Indian country,” he added.
The president-elect is “sorely mistaken” if he thinks this can be undone overnight, Grijalva said to claps and cheers from the crowd. “To sustain this victory, we must all continue to be committed. We must all continue to be vigilant and we must all be prepared to insist that the decisions that have been made, not be undone,” he concluded.
On Sunday House Speaker Paul Ryan reacted to news that the Army Corps of Engineers had denied the necessary permit to continue construction of the pipeline.
“This is big-government decision-making at its worst. I look forward to putting this anti-energy presidency behind us,” he tweeted.
Grijalva balked at the idea that the Army Corps of Engineers’ denial of the permit would be immediately threatened under the incoming administration. The tribes and their allies have a reason for cautious celebration now, he said in an interview.
“If you just for a second gauge what it took to get this administration to move, understanding an administration is coming in that is not even willing to listen at this point, I think celebrate – with caution – and prepare to defend the decision that was made,” he said.
Defense of the decision will be done through courts and continued direct action, he said.
“That’s what got us to this point and I don’t think that’s going to be given up,” Grijalva added.
The Trump transition team, however, cast doubt on whether that decision would stand once the new administration takes over in January.
Jason Miller, a spokesman for Trump said in a statement, “With regard to the Dakota Access Pipeline, that’s something that we support construction of and we’ll review the full situation when we’re in the White House and make the appropriate determination at that time.”