All eyes were on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Monday, but it was mostly silent throughout the day, at least so far as the Dakota Access pipeline is concerned.
There were a few scattered posts on the agency’s Facebook page about the #SMART Rivers Conference later this year, and a warning to watch out for romance scams, as well as historical posts about a board set up to investigate and report on the movement of beach sand and a little history of the Army Corps — but that appeared to be it as far as anything new.
President Donald Trump on the first weekday of his administration sent landing teams to all federal agencies. Among things they are charged with are quick decisions on how to handle litigation that is in progress from the Obama administration, which ranges from EPA’s Clean Power Plan and Waters of the United States, as well as whether to quickly reverse course on recent agency decisions, such as the review that halted Dakota Access.
Under the Obama administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it would not afterall grant Dakota Access the final easement it needed to complete its four-state, $3.8 billion pipeline, after members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe questioned whether their water and sacred sites would be adequately protected, attracting environmental groups to join a national protest of the pipeline.
About 500 protesters remain in the Oceti Sakowin camp, according to Morton County authorities, although members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe passed a motion Jan. 20 closing all three protest camps and setting a deadline of Feb. 19 for everyone to vacate. A post on the Oceti Sakowin page called on all water protectors to respect the Tribal Council’s decision, saying that the “sacred fires have been put to sleep” — but promising they will be relit in the future as the battleground shifts.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer mentioned Dakota Access in a press conference Monday, hinting that President Donald Trump will be moving forward on it and Keystone XL.
“I’m not going to get in front of the President’s executive actions,” he said. “but I will tell you that areas like Dakota and Keystone pipeline areas, that we can increase jobs, increase economic growth and tap into America’s energy supply. That’s something that he’s been very clear about.”
Trump is “very keen in making sure we maximize use of our natural resources to America’s benefit,” he added.
The comments stirred optimism — already fairly high — that Trump’s administration would act quickly to reverse course on the stymied pipeline, which many in the Bakken have said is vital to the future of its oil and gas sector.
Off the record, many who are close to the Trump’s transition team said they know Dakota Access is a priority for the administration, and they expect him to reverse course soon.
One plausible scenario would be for the Corps to simply withdraw its notice to proceed on an Environmental Impact Statement, which was published in the Federal Register two days before the Obama administration ended. That notice began a public scoping session, to collect comments on the scope of an Environmental Impact Statement through Feb. 20.
An action like that would likely come from both the President and the Army Corp, and would not necessarily have to wait on an official nominee to take over either the Army Corps or as the Secretary of the Army.
Craig Stevens, with the MAIN Coalition which supports infrastructure projects including the Dakota Access pipeline, said he remains optimistic there will be action fairly soon, and was heartened by Spicer’s comments.
“We are hopeful the administration won’t wait until confirmation hearings for that individual,” he said. “We are optimistic that the President will act, and Spicer’s comments were forward leaning. We are hopeful, and we think if he issues that final easement, which has already been approved, it’s a good signal to businesses and other infrastructure projects.”
Stevens, who was involved with the Bush administration, praised the landing team concept, and said that was a very proactive step.
“We didn’t have that luxury with Bush,” he recalled. “It could mean there are already people reviewing the important issues, including Dakota Access and Keystone.”