Water protectors protesting the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline under Lake Oahe in North Dakota won a significant victory this week, when the Department of the Army announced that it would not grant the project’s final easement.
But tribal leadership understands this win is only temporary.
The victory seems especially fragile given that President-elect Donald Trump — who owns stock in the companies building the pipeline — supports the stalled project. His incoming administration is expected to offer fewer obstacles to the project’s completion, once Trump takes office next month.
Yet Standing Rock Sioux chairman Dave Archambault II, whose tribe has been fighting the controversial pipeline for months now, says he’s still hoping to build a relationship with the Trump administration.
Specifically, he would like to meet with Trump to discuss the topic in person.
“We would welcome a meeting with President-elect Donald Trump so that I can share with him and build his awareness about the real issues here,” Archambault told The Huffington Post on Thursday. “I think we can help the president-elect and his legacy if he’s willing to sit down and be open with us.”
Archambault noted that the tribe has not yet had any interaction with Trump or his presidential transition team.
A Trump spokesperson did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
Meanwhile, Archambault acknowledged that blizzard conditions and freezing temperatures have taken a toll on the Oceti Sakowin camp in recent days ― which is partly why the chairman has called on the camp’s water protectors to go home.
Many protesters appear prepared to stay put nonetheless.
“The fight is not here right now,” Archambault said. “I’m not going to say this fight is over. We still have work to do, but I think it’s a matter of helping people understand what happened and why it happened.”
The future of the pipeline will remain unclear until the Army Corps clarifies what specific steps it plans to take regarding the easement.
In a statement provided to HuffPost, an Army Corps spokeswoman noted that its announcement earlier this week was a “policy decision” made because “the totality of circumstances call for additional analysis, a more robust consideration of alternatives, and additional public information.” The Army is now beginning an environmental review to determine such information.
That decision, says Sierra Club attorney Doug Hayes, did not actually indicate that the Army Corps has denied the easement, contrary to widespread media reports.
“The easement decision is still pending,” Hayes told HuffPost. “The decision not to grant the easement and instead to prepare an environmental impact statement is not the same thing as denying it.”
The process of preparing an environmental impact statement is expected to delay the pipeline’s construction by at least another several months. Its operators, Energy Transfer Partners, had previously planned to have the project up and running by year’s end, per the terms of its contracts with shippers relying on the pipeline to transport crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken field to a refinery in central Illinois.
Energy Transfer Partners said this week that the Army Corps’ decision 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.”
The company, which is pursuing a court order to force the construction to continue, said it does not foresee “any additional rerouting” of the pipeline and expects to complete the project as it is currently planned.
Delays in the construction of the 1,200-mile pipeline have already cost the company a reported $450 million.
The site of the pipeline’s planned crossing of Lake Oahe at the Missouri River, just north of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, has attracted thousands of visitors in support of the tribe in recent months. Many of them have taken up residence for weeks or months at a time in a protest camp filled with tents and other impromptu lodgings.
The water protectors say they are concerned the pipeline will disturb burial grounds and sacred lands protected under the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie, as well as threatening the safety of their water supply. Energy Transfer Partners has called such concerns “unfounded.”
Joseph Erbentraut covers promising innovations and challenges in the areas of food and water. In addition, Erbentraut explores the evolving ways Americans are identifying and defining themselves. Follow Erbentraut on Twitter at @robojojo. Tips? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.