US Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Democrats Benjamin L. Cardin (Md.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), and Edward J. Markey (Mass.) have asked US President Barack Obama to halt construction of the Dakota Access crude oil pipeline until affected Indian tribes are consulted and a fuller environmental review can be conducted.
“In light of the decision of the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit to reject the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's request for a temporary halt to construction, the project’s current permits should be suspended and all construction stopped until a complete environmental and cultural review has been completed for the entire project,” the senators told the president in an Oct. 13 letter.
The US Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) withdrew permits in early September for a portion of 1,172-mile, 30-in. pipeline after protests by Standing Rock Sioux members and other opponents escalated and a federal district judge rejected the tribe’s request for a stay (OGJ Online, Sept. 12, 2016).
The US Department of the Interior simultaneously announced that meetings would be held to discuss the broader issue of improving consultations with tribes on a wide range of issues, while the US Department of Justice said it would investigate complaints from construction workers and others that protesters were harassing them.
Lawyers for the project’s sponsor, Energy Transfer Partners, asked the court to reinstate the permits a few weeks later and resumed construction elsewhere along the line (OGJ Online, Oct. 5, 2016). A federal appeals court in Washington dissolved the administration’s injunction on Oct. 9.
‘A long-standing problem’
“We applaud the administration taking action to deny the authorization of construction on [ACE]-owned land and under Lake Oahe pending a review of prior decisions under the National Environmental Policy Act and government-to-government consultation with the tribes,” the senators wrote.
“In addition, we appreciate the administration’s decision to reassess the way the federal government incorporates tribal concerns regarding permit decisions more broadly,” they said. “This is a long-standing problem, and these efforts must bring about long overdue, meaningful change.”
Another Senate Democrat issued her own statement following the appeals court’s Oct. 9 action. “For North Dakota communities, today’s court decision does not deliver the finality or the safety they deserve—nor is it likely the last legal step,” Sen. Heidi Heitkamp said. “That’s why I’ve been pressing the [ACE] to make a decision determining the course of the pipeline while pushing for federal law enforcement resources our officers need to keep the peace on the ground.
North Dakota’s other US senator, Republican John Hoeven, said the same day that the three-judge appellate panel reaffirmed US District Judge James F. Boasburg’s Sept. 9 decision, hours before the ACE withdrew its permits, that the proper process was followed and the pipeline’s construction could continue. “The Obama administration and the [ACE] now need to work to help bring the pipeline to completion,” he said.
“We will continue to press the administration to provide more help to local law enforcement and to ensure that any ongoing protests are within the law,” said Hoeven, who is a member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
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