Trump quiet on pipe­line con­tro­versy

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By James MacPher­son and Blake Nicholson

CAN­NON BALL, N.D.» In­dus­try lead­ers are urg­ing Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump to make ap­proval of the dis­puted Dakota Ac­cess oil pipe­line a “top pri­or­ity” when he takes of­fice next month, while op­po­nents who have protested the project for months are vow­ing to stay put on their sprawl­ing North Dakota en­camp­ment de­spite harsh win­ter weather and a tribal leader’s call to leave.

The moves come af­ter the Army de­clined to is­sue a per­mit for the $3.8 bil­lion pipe­line to cross un­der a Mis­souri River reser­voir in south­ern North Dakota near the Stand­ing Rock Sioux Reser­va­tion. While the Army’s de­ci­sion doesn’t end the de­bate over the pipe­line, in­dus­try an­a­lysts and the chair­man of the Amer­i­can In­dian tribe who has led the protests said Mon­day they don’t ex­pect any de­vel­op­ments for months.

Stand­ing Rock Chair­man Dave Ar­cham­bault lauded the Army’s de­ci­sion as tak­ing “tremen­dous

courage,” and Na­tional Congress of Amer­i­can In­di­ans Pres­i­dent Brian Cladoosby said it showed “re­spect for tribal sovereignty.”

The Stand­ing Rock tribe be­lieves the 1,200-mile pipe­line to trans­port North Dakota oil through the Dako­tas and Iowa to a ship­ping point in Illi­nois threat­ens drink­ing wa­ter and cul­tural sites. Dal­las-based pipe­line de­vel­oper En­ergy Trans­fer Part­ners has de­nied that and said the pipe­line will be safe. The seg­ment un­der Lake Oahe is the only re­main­ing big chunk of con­struc­tion.

“I am hope­ful Pres­i­den­t­elect Trump will re­ject the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s shame­ful ac­tions to deny this vi­tal en­ergy project,” Amer­i­can Pe­tro­leum In­sti­tute Pres­i­dent and CEO Jack Ger­ard said in a state­ment late Sun­day. The in­sti­tute rep­re­sents the U.S. oil and nat­u­ral gas in­dus­try.

Trump sup­ports con­struc­tion of the pipe­line, spokesman Jason Miller told The As­so­ci­ated Press on Mon­day, but Miller wouldn’t say whether Trump would re­verse the Army’s de­ci­sion.

“We will re­view the full sit­u­a­tion when we’re in the White House and make the ap­pro­pri­ate de­ter­mi­na­tion at that time,” Miller said.

The Sun­day an­nounce­ment by As­sis­tant Army Sec­re­tary Jo-Ellen Darcy does not ac­tu­ally deny an ease­ment for the project but says ad­di­tional re­view is needed. That means the pipe­line com­pany can­not file an ap­peal be­cause the project was not for­mally re­jected.

En­ergy Trans­fer Part­ners slammed the de­ci­sion as po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated and al­leged that Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion was de­ter­mined to de­lay the mat­ter un­til he leaves of­fice. The com­pany is await­ing a de­ci­sion from a fed­eral judge it asked ear­lier to give it per­mis­sion to drill un­der the lake.

A full en­vi­ron­men­tal re­view, in­clud­ing al­ter­nate routes and spill risks, could take as long as a year, though that is con­sid­ered un­likely un­der the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Once in of­fice, Trump could move to can­cel the full re­view and green­light the project, but court cases re­main pend­ing and any move by the new ad­min­is­tra­tion is sure to face a le­gal chal­lenge from one side or an­other.

The Army’s an­nounce­ment prob­a­bly de­lays the pipe­line by at least sev­eral months but does not kill it, en­ergy an­a­lysts said. While the com­pany had hoped to be­gin pip­ing oil next spring, the project is now likely to be de­layed un­til sum­mer or fall at the ear­li­est, said Christi Tezak, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of ClearView En­ergy Part­ners, a Wash­ing­ton­based re­search firm.

The MAIN Coali­tion, made up of agri­cul­ture, busi­ness and la­bor en­ti­ties that ben­e­fit from Mid­west in­fra­struc­ture projects, hopes Trump will pave the way for com­ple­tion of the project. The in­dus­try group said the Army’s de­ci­sion is “ar­ro­gance that work­ing class Amer­i­cans soundly re­jected” when they elected Trump.

Hun­dreds of peo­ple de­scrib­ing them­selves as “wa­ter pro­tec­tors” have been stay­ing in the Oceti Sakowin, or Seven Coun­cil Fires, protest en­camp­ment along the pipe­line route in south­ern North Dakota. Ar­cham­bault, an­tic­i­pat­ing no changes for months, on Mon­day urged them to go home as dan­ger­ous win­try weather sets in.

“Their pur­pose has been served,” he said. “I’m thank­ful for all the peo­ple who have come, all the peo­ple who have stood by us, but there’s no need ... to put peo­ple’s lives at risk.”

Mon­day was a fed­eral gov­ern­ment-set dead­line for the peo­ple to leave the camp that’s on fed­eral land, though au­thor­i­ties have said they won’t forcibly re­move any­one. Gov. Jack Dal­rym­ple last week also is­sued a “manda­tory evac­u­a­tion” but said no one would be re­moved by force.

A storm on Mon­day was bring­ing snow, strong winds and bit­ter cold tem­per­a­tures to the area, but peo­ple in camp were busy shoring up hous­ing and stock­pil­ing fire­wood rather than get­ting in their ve­hi­cles and leav­ing.

“I plan on stay­ing un­til it’s over,” said Andy Shute, 30, of St. Louis.

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