The Standoff at Standing Rock

Against a backdrop of political uncertainty, the need for clarity, transparency, and dialogue becomes even more urgent—and the stakes have never been higher.
File photo of protesters demonstrating against Energy Transfer Partners' Dakota Access oil pipeline
Credit: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Against a backdrop of political uncertainty, the need for clarity, transparency, and dialogue becomes even more urgent—and the stakes have never been higher.

UPDATE: Good news. After this posted, the Army Corps admitted that further review of the route was still needed, including nation-to-nation discussions with the Standing Rock Sioux. The project will be paused while this process plays out.

It’s a moment of tumult for the people most affected by the Dakota Access Pipeline. We’ve seen disturbing reports of violence and arrests near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. We’ve heard an announcement that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers might reroute the pipeline away from the reservation’s border. And, of course, we have a president-elect who campaigned on a vow to curb public oversight of these kinds of projects and press for pipeline construction overall.

Amid the uncertainty is a growing anxiety over the last significant legal hurdle standing in the way of the $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile pipeline’s completion: an easement that, if approved by the Army Corps, would allow the pipeline to cross the Missouri River at Lake Oahe. That’s the primary water source for the Standing Rock Sioux and a site of immeasurable cultural and spiritual significance to the tribe.

In September, as tensions mounted between opponents of the pipeline and its builder, the Obama administration made clear that it would refrain from approving the easement until officials had been given the chance to reevaluate the larger process by which such approvals are granted.

NRDC joins the Standing Rock Sioux water protectors in believing that the easement shouldn’t be approved—and that all work should be halted until all the necessary voices have been heard. Every day the Army Corps refuses to grant the easement is a day that can and should be devoted to listening to tribal voices, analyzing the many negative environmental impacts of the Dakota Access Pipeline, and carefully reconsidering this dangerous project.

That’s why NRDC is calling for the Army Corps—and, by extension, the Obama administration—to refrain from making any decision regarding the easement until at least two things have happened.

First, they should wait until more government-to-government discussions between the United States and tribal representatives take place. These talks, which have already begun, are currently scheduled throughout the month of November.

Second, it is imperative that no decision be made until the federal government has undertaken a comprehensive reevaluation of the process by which it grants approvals to large projects like Dakota Access in the context of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). According to this 1970 law, the government has an obligation to consider the potential environmental impact of any major infrastructure project before allowing it to go forward.

As of right now, there’s ample reason to believe that the federal government’s interpretation of this law is seriously flawed. That’s what members of the Standing Rock Sioux believe. That’s what NRDC and many other environmental organizations have also concluded. And that’s the position of the thousands of Americans who have traveled to North Dakota to quite literally Stand With Standing Rock, and the millions more who have signified their solidarity with the tribe online.

There is now another chance for all of us to stand with Standing Rock: On November 15, the water protectors are organizing a massive Day of Action. Protestors will gather at Army Corps of Engineer offices around the country to show solidarity with the tribe.

NRDC believes that the Standing Rock Sioux deserve to have an honest, transparent, and peaceful discussion about this issue. In the meantime, all construction on the pipeline—at all points along its route, not just on those culturally sensitive lands adjacent to Standing Rock—should be halted.

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