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HOUSTON/CANNON BALL, N.D. The leader of a Native
American tribe attempting to block the Dakota Access oil
pipeline said on Wednesday the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe may
have exhausted legal options to stop the project after the
company building it won federal permission to tunnel under the
Legal experts agreed the tribe faces long odds in convincing
any court to halt the $3.8 billion project led by Energy
Transfer Partners LP, which could now begin operation as
soon as June.
The U.S. Army said on Tuesday it would grant the final
permit for the pipeline after an order from President Donald
Trump to expedite the project. The army owns the land through
its Corps of Engineers.
“We’re running out of options, but that doesn’t mean that
it’s over,” David Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock
Sioux Tribe, told Reuters in a telephone interview. “We’re still
going to continue to look at all legal options available to us.”
Opponents called demonstrations against the pipeline in New
York, Washington and San Francisco for later on Wednesday.
Tuesday’s announcement dealt a major setback to Native
American tribes and climate activists who have vowed to fight
the pipeline, fearing it will desecrate sacred sites and
endanger drinking water. Supporters say the pipeline is safer
than rail or trucks to transport the oil.
The 1,170-mile (1,885 km) line will move crude from the
shale oilfields of North Dakota to Illinois en route to the Gulf
of Mexico, where many U.S. refineries are located.
Public opposition to the pipeline has drawn thousands of
people to the North Dakota plains, including high-profile
political and celebrity supporters. Large protest
camps popped up near the site, leading to several violent
clashes, including one incident where protesters burned
vehicles, and another when police fired water cannons on
activists in sub-freezing temperatures. Over the
last several months, more than 600 people have been arrested.
The opposition sensed victory last year when the
administration of former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, delayed completion of the pipeline pending a review of tribal
concerns and in December ordered an environmental study.
But those fortunes were reversed after Republican Trump took
office on Jan. 20. Trump issued an order on Jan. 24 to expedite
both the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and to revive another multibillion-dollar oil artery: Keystone XL. Obama’s
administration blocked that project in 2015.
In a court filing on Tuesday, the Army said it would allow
the final section of the DAPL to tunnel under Lake Oahe, part of
the Missouri River system. The permit was the last bureaucratic
hurdle to the pipeline’s completion.
With liberal activists marching in the streets to protest
Trump on issues such as immigration and women’s rights, the
victory for Trump and the pipeline will present a significant
challenge to opponents who have lined up against the new
The tribe said on Wednesday it would attempt to use a “legal
battle and temporary restraining order” to shut down pipeline
But Wayne D’Angelo, an energy and environmental lawyer with
Kelley Drye & Warren in Washington, said he believed the Trump
administration was on “pretty solid legal ground.”
“The basis for this decision is well-established,” D’Angelo
said. “The basis for the Obama administration’s decision to
reverse its position with respect to that easement is not
The tribe would have to prove a very difficult standard:
that approval for the pipeline was “arbitrary and capricious, an
abuse of discretion or inconsistent with the record before the
agency,” D’Angelo said.
The protest camps dwindled after the Obama administration
ordered the environmental review in December as the tribe urged
people to leave due to concerns about trash buildup in a flood
But a few holdouts have remained, including some who braved
temperatures of minus 9 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 23 C) on
Two men gathered around a wood stove said they were
discouraged by the setback but hoped demonstrations in other
parts of the country would galvanize the opposition.
“People are a little discouraged right now because we are
being attacked by DAPL,” said Shadrick, 22, who declined to give
his last name for fear of police reprisals. “We’re being
attacked by the military and the police. We’re being attacked by
the tribe. We’re really on our own here.”
(Additional reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York)
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