The decision to finish the Dakota Access Pipeline may have been illegal
By Christina Sterbenz on Feb 9, 2017
When the Army Corps of Engineers cleared the way for completing the Dakota Access Pipeline on Tuesday, the agency also canceled something the Standing Rock Sioux have been asking for since the project started: a full report on the environmental effects to the tribe’s main water source.
The Army Corps granted the easement on Wednesday to allow Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the pipeline, to build on federal lands at Lake Oahe on the Missouri River — a move the Standing Rock Sioux say could contaminate their main water supply and destroy sacred land. The Corps also canceled an environmental impact statement, which had never been completed for the area.
In abandoning the report and granting the easement, the Army Corps referenced one of Donald Trump’s first acts as president: a presidential memorandum expediting the pipeline. But that may not be good enough to clear the legal hurdles, according to environmental experts who say the agency needs to provide a reason for reversing course on completing the report, which the Army had deemed necessary just a few months ago.
Within hours of the Army Corps’ decision, the Standing Rock Sioux vowed to challenge the decision in court. While Trump ordered the completion of the pipeline as soon as possible, the Army Corps’ reversal of its prior decision could set in motion a lengthy legal fight, one that could go all the way to the Supreme Court, according to Zygmunt Plater, a professor of environmental law at Boston College.