The Army Corps is considering a reroute of a contentious oil pipeline to respect the concerns of Native Americans, President Obama says.
In a dramatic move after months of protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline, President Obama on Wednesday said a reroute of the pipeline is under consideration to account for Native American concerns.
“My view is that there is a way for us to accommodate sacred lands of Native Americans. And I think that right now, the Army Corps (of Engineers) is examining whether there are ways to reroute this pipeline,” Obama said in an interview with Now This News.
“We are going to let it play out several more weeks and determine whether or not this can be resolved in a way that I think is properly attentive to the traditions of First Americans,” the president said.
David Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, said in a news release that he was grateful for the president’s remarks. He also called for an immediate stop-work order on the pipeline now under construction in North Dakota and a full environmental-impact review of the project.
- Background stories: Here's a primer on the pipeline project, including the key players on all sides, a brief history of broken treaty promises and a closer look at the courtroom battle. And here's what we're reading related to the controversy.
- March 28: What the completed Dakota Access pipeline means for key players.
- Feb. 23: Dakota Access Pipeline protest camp closed; 46 holdouts arrested.
- Feb. 22: Preparing to leave, Standing Rock protesters ceremonially burn camp.
- Feb. 13: Judge rejects tribes’ bid to halt Dakota Access Pipeline; feds plan to shut down protest camp.
- Feb. 1: Hundreds rally as the Seattle City Council considers divesting from Wells Fargo because of its role as a Dakota Access Pipeline lender.
- Jan. 24, 2017: Donald Trump signs executive orders advancing the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe says it will push back.
- Dec. 4, 2016: Tribes celebrate as Corps rejects Dakota Access pipeline easement
- Nov. 21: Washington tribes urge that Obama stop, reroute Dakota Access Pipeline
- Nov. 12: Hundreds rally in Tacoma against Dakota Access Pipeline
- Live updates from from Seattle Times journalists on the scene Oct. 26, 27 and 28.
- Oct. 25: Tribes in Washington state call on President Obama to improve federal consultations over infrastructure projects
- Oct. 24: Citing treaty claim, protesters occupy land a rancher recently sold to pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners.
- See photos from the Dakota Access Pipeline protests.
“The nation and the world are watching,” Archambault said. “The injustices done to Native people in North Dakota and throughout the country must be addressed.”
In addition to considering a pipeline reroute, the Army Corps also holds the last easement the company, Energy Transfer Partners of Dallas, Texas, needs to complete the project.
The agency is considering whether to review permits it has granted because of concerns about public safety and whether tribes were adequately consulted.
Jan Hasselman of Earthjustice, lead attorney for the Standing Rock Sioux, told The Seattle Times in an email that Obama’s announcement was “huge,” adding that however, “This could be very difficult to walk back.”
The present route passes within a half-mile of the Standing Rock reservation. An earlier alignment considered by the company was routed 10 miles north of the state capital, Bismarck, but was rerouted toward the reservation, in part, because of concerns about possible effects on municipal wellheads near the city.
The tribe is fighting the pipeline to protect its drinking-water intake, which is 10 miles down river from where the proposed pipeline would cross under the Missouri River. Millions of other people also rely on the Missouri for drinking water.
Thousands of opponents, who call themselves water protectors, have traveled to camps near the construction site since last April, including supporters from more than 200 Indian Nations, to take a stand against the pipeline. Even as winter approaches, many hundreds remain and vow to stay, including tribal members and their supporters from Washington state.
For months, the protests were primarily peaceful, but last week violence erupted as a large force of police pushed pipeline opponents out of a camp they occupied in the path of construction.
Demonstrators were hit with Tasers, pepper spray, clubs, and there were 142 arrests during a day-and-a-half-long fracas.
Pipeline opponents and police clashed again Wednesday morning, as protesters tried to cross a creek to reach property owned by the Corps of Engineers where the company wants to drill under the river to finish the pipeline. Demonstrators tried building a wooden bridge by hand, launched kayaks and even swam across as police forced them back with tear gas and pepper spray.
Obama’s statement brought pushback from Morton County Chairman Cody Schulz.
“When President Obama says he wants to let the situation ‘play out for several more weeks,’ it affords the opportunity to the out-of-state militant faction of this protest to keep escalating their violent activities.”
He called for federal funding to support law enforcement against pipeline protesters. “Rather than creating further uncertainty, the president should be sending us the support and resources necessary to enforce the law and protect people’s right to peacefully protest. Given the recent escalation of violence by protesters, letting the situation ‘play out’ is quite literally putting lives in danger.”
Tribal leaders at Standing Rock have, in turn, said it is police who are escalating tensions, by deploying a militarized response to protesters to defend the $3.8 billion fossil-fuel project, using law-enforcement officers deployed from at least six states.