The Obama administration’s decision to deny permits for the Dakota Access pipeline puts an early, high-profile decision on President-elect Donald Trump’s desk.
Trump has backed the pipeline, something his transition team reiterated on Monday.
“That’s something we support construction of, and will review the full situation in the White House and make an appropriate determination at that time,” Trump spokesman Jason Miller said Monday.
Supporters of the project heaped scorn on the Army Corps of Engineers’ Sunday decision to reject a construction permit for the pipeline’s route across the Missouri River and instead conduct an environmental impact assessment of the project.
Native groups and environmental activists cheered the decision, which represented a huge victory for protestors who had set up a large and growing camp near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, which lies near the proposed pipeline.
But their political win could be short-lived in a Trump administration, which will take office after the inauguration on Jan. 20.
Trump’s team confirmed his support for the project last week, with the campaign releasing a memo to supporters saying he would “cut the bureaucratic red tape put in place by the Obama administration that has prevented our country from diversifying our energy portfolio.”
Dakota Access supporters took that as an indication Trump would work to approve the project once he takes office, despite any decision Obama might make against it on his way out of power.
“As stated all along, [we] are fully committed to ensuring that this vital project is brought to completion and fully expect to complete construction of the pipeline without any additional rerouting in and around Lake Oahe,” Dakota Access developers Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners said late Sunday.
“Nothing this administration has done today changes that in any way.”
Industry backers said approving Dakota Access should be a top priority for Trump.
“I am hopeful President-elect Trump will reject the Obama administration’s shameful actions to deny this vital energy project, restore the rule of law in the regulatory process, and make this project’s approval a top priority as he takes office in January,” American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard said in a Sunday statement.
The Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now, which supports the pipeline, said “we are hopeful that this is not the final word on the Dakota Access Pipeline.” Locally, North Dakota Petroleum Council President Ron Ness said the group “looks forward to the enforcement of the rule of law and the approval of an easement by the incoming Trump Administration.”
Trump has long supported increasing fossil fuel development in the United States and said he would approve energy projects like the Keystone XL pipeline as president. An order supporting Dakota Access would fit within that platform and be an early indication about how aggressive he intends to be when to comes to energy projects.
A ClearView Energy study published Sunday suggested Trump officials could step in and undo Sunday’s order, or a GOP-controlled Congress could stop the effort legislatively.
The administration could also push a federal court to rule that the Army Corps improperly withheld the permits developers have sought to build the pipeline. Energy Transfer Partners sued over the delay in November, and a court hearing on the matter is set for later this week.
The Army Corps decision came after national pressure from a coalition of pipeline opponents. Indigenous rights groups slammed regulators for initially approving the pipeline despite objections from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, which said the proposed route threatens drinking water supplies and cultural sites in the region.
Environmentalists took up Standing Rock’s cause, pushing Obama to deny the project as part of the burgeoning “keep it in the ground” movement to stop fossil fuel production in the United States. Activists calling themselves “water protectors” established the protest camp south of Bismarck, and greens and tribal activists held a series of rallies against the project in Washington.
Pipeline foes acknowledged Sunday that the Army Corps’ decision was not the end of the Dakota Access fight.
They vowed to resist any effort from Trump or others to undo it, a strategy that carries the promise of renewed public pressure on Trump and a courtroom battle.
“We hope that [Energy Transfer CEO] Kelcey Warren, Governor [Jack] Dalrymple [(R-N.D.)] and the incoming Trump administration respect this decision and understand the complex process that led us to this point,” Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault said on Sunday.
“When it comes to infrastructure development in Indian Country and with respect to treaty lands, we must strive to work together to reach decisions that reflect the multifaceted considerations of tribes.”
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee and an early ally of Dakota Access opponents, praised Obama’s decision on Monday.
He said this “big win for tribal rights, for environmental quality and for every American who has stood in solidarity with the water protectors” should survive after Obama leaves office.
“It now falls to the Trump administration to follow the law, treat this entire process with the respect and seriousness it demands, and honor the sacrifices of the Americans who put themselves in harm’s way to demand justice at Standing Rock,” Grijalva said.