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Native American tribes have been the driving force behind efforts to shut down the Dakota Access pipeline, but now a Native American tribe has come forward in support of continuing its operation.

Chairman Mark Fox of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation has sent a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers asking for single-tribe consultation on continuity of operations for the Dakota Access Pipeline.

In the letter, Fox notes that half of the oil produced on the MHA’s reservation is taken to market through Dakota Access.

“We seek immediate consultation on the alternatives being considered by the Corps regarding continuity of operations of the Dakota Access Pipeline or alternative delivery systems while any NEPA-related or other federal review of DAPL is conducted,” Fox wrote.

Fox said the MHA nation’s interests as an oil and gas producing tribe make it unique when compared to other tribes in the region.

“We insist on a one-on-one consultation before any action is taken that would adversely impact the market value of our oil and gas resources, which are held in trust on our behalf by the United States,” Fox wrote. “At a minimum, our trustee owes the MHA Nation meaningful consultation that is specific and pre-decisional.”

The letter is dated March 23 and was sent to Lt. General Scott A. Spellmon, commanding general of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The letter comes as the Dakota Access pipeline nears a crucial moment. There is a court hearing on April 9 to determine whether the pipeline can continue carrying Bakken oil to Illinois while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completes additional environmental review, as ordered by Judge James Boasberg last year in April.

The hearing was originally set for February, but the Biden administration requested a delay to familiarize themselves with the case.

Boasberg last year vacated the easement the Corps had granted Dakota Access for its crossing under Lake Oahe. He determined that the federal government did not look closely enough at social justice aspects of the pipeline’s crossing. He also said the Corps should have conducted the lengthier Environmental Impact Statement, instead of the shorter Environmental Assessment, due to the pipeline’s controversial nature.

Among items Boasberg said must be clarified in the Environmental Impact Study are how an oil spill at the Pipeline’s Lake Oahe crossing would affect the tribe’s hunting and fishing rights, and whether a spill at that crossing could disproportionately affect the tribal community, which lives on a reservation that is near the crossing.

Boasberg had also ordered Dakota Access to empty itself by Aug. 5, but an appeals court found the type of injunction the judge ordered did not meet certain requirements, including that the remedy not harm public interest.

The appeals court justices did, however, leave the door open for other forms of relief that could lead to the pipeline’s shutdown, resulting in the April 9 hearing.

A variety of groups have weighed in both for and against closing down the pipeline. Environmental and tribal groups have argued that the pipeline can’t be allowed to continue operating without a valid permit while the study goes on.

States in which the pipeline traverses and a variety of industry groups, meanwhile, have pointed to the economic harm shutting the pipeline down will do.

Dakota Access carries about half of North Dakota’s overall oil production to markets on the Gulf Coast. If the pipeline ceases to operate, that oil will suddenly need a new transportation method — whether by rail or truck. Or it will have to shut in — perhaps permanently, given the challenging economic landscape. The COVID-19 pandemic has crushed demand for energy, and recent price wars have glutted the world’s oil supply. Many oil and gas companies are in a struggle for survival right now, and can ill afford yet another body blow.

Chase Iron Eyes, not long after the Appeals Court upheld additional environmental study, said it is long past time for the Dakota Access pipeline to cease operating.

“Renewable energy technologies like wind and solar are actually cheaper than oil now, and these technologies present opportunities to put people to work in good paying jobs in the renewable energy sector,” he said. “It need not be said that there can be no jobs on a dead earth. Instead of bullying Indigenous communities into accepting noxious infrastructure in violation of federal environmental law, our government should be providing stimulus to impoverished communities and promoting a new, green economy. Like the pandemic, the fossil fuel industry has an outsized impact on communities of color. We hope President Biden will act immediately, using his authority to confront the problems ravaging our communities and fund solutions that better our world.”

The MHA Nation is offering an important counter perspective to such opinions, Grow America’s Infrastructure Now Coalition spokesman Craig Stevens said.

“The GAIN Coalition recognizes and appreciates the critical role in our nation’s economic and energy security the Affiliated Tribes and the Dakota Access Pipeline play by safely developing and transporting Bakken crude,” he said. “Oil and gas production plays a critical role in the MHA Nation’s economy, creating well-paying jobs and providing millions of dollars in revenue for education, healthcare, infrastructure, and other public services.”

Stevens said the record also shows the Dakota Access has operated safely for nearly four years, and that Energy Transfer worked closely with state and federal regulators to meet all permitting requirements, as well as consulting hundreds of times with local officials, including tribal leaders.

“Shuttering DAPL, even temporarily, could have a devastating economic impact to both the tribe and the broader U.S. economy,” Stevens said. “(It) risks increasing reliance on foreign sources of energy — which just this past week was imperiled by the barge stuck in the Suez Canal.”

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