On Tuesday, Jan. 24, President Donald Trump signed executive actions to advance approval on the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). This action has been greeted with both praise from the domestic oil and gas industry and protests from organizations like the Indigenous Environmental Network.
The Dakota Access Pipeline is a pipeline that will travel through the Dakotas and Iowa (near Minnesota’s Southwest corner) to eventually connect to a pipeline in Patoka, Ill. The pipeline will transfer 470,000 barrels of oil per day from North Dakota and is run by Energy Transfer Partners (ETP). The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has invested nearly $200 million into ETP.
The decision to advance the pipeline cast aside efforts from the Obama administration to halt the pipeline construction.
Trump also issued executive actions declaring that oil pipelines constructed in the U.S. should be built with U.S. materials. This process would streamline the regulatory process for pipeline construction in the U.S. and shorten the environmental review process.
As of right now, former President Barack Obama ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to perform another environmental impact statement related to the project, which has been met with protests by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other groups.
Trump did not direct his order to ETP, the company constructing the pipeline, but to the Army Corps of Engineers, ordering them to take all actions necessary to conduct the review and approve the pipeline “in an expedited manner… to the extent permitted by law and as warranted.”
This action gives the Army Corps the power to halt the environmental impact statement and continue building the pipeline.
“President Trump is legally required to honor out treaty rights and provide a fair and reasonable pipeline process,” said Standing Rock Sioux Tribe chairman Dave Archambault II in a statement. “Americans know this existing pipeline was unfairly rerouted towards our nation and without our consent. The existing pipeline route risks infringing on our treaty rights, contaminating our water and the water of 17 million Americans downstream.”
Many were quick to criticize Trump for his decision, including Tom Steyer, president of NextGen Climate. He accused the Trump administration of putting the American people at risk for the sake of corporate interests.
“The pipelines are all risk and now reward, allowing corporate polluters to transport oil through our country to be sold on the global market, while putting our air and water at serious risk,” he said in a statement.
While Trump has begun making efforts to continue the construction, a sudden resignation in a key agency has threatened to put the project on hold.
On Thursday, Jan. 26, Norman Bay, one of three current members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), said he would resign effective Friday, Feb. 3. His announcement came shortly after Trump decided that Bay’s fellow commissioner, Cheryl LaFleur, would serve as the commission’s new chair.
This resignation could mean delays for the DAPL. Bay’s agency oversees the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas and oil. FERC is supposed to have five commissions but is required to have three for the quorum to make decisions. Bay’s resignation leaves the agency with just two commissioners. Bay’s resignation has received backlash from pipeline supporters.
On Friday, Jan. 27, the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, a trade group that represents pipeline operators, sent Trump a letter calling on him to fill Bay’s vacancy quickly.
“The most significant barrier to building this infrastructure is often the permitting and approval process,” wrote INGAA President Donald Santa. “We must have a functional FERC to move forward with building this critical infrastructure.”
If Trump decides to fill the vacancy quickly, the process will still take several months, as the appointment requires Senate confirmation.
Even though construction may be halted for some time, a new wave of protests is expected to emerge from environmental groups and their progressive allies. Former first daughter Malia Obama was spotted this past week at the Standing Rock solidarity event held this week at the Sundance Film Festival to protest the DAPL construction. The Indigenous Environmental Network promised a new round of massive mobilization and civil disobedience.
Earthjustice, a nonprofit law organization representing the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, told CNN that they are prepared to act should Trump seek to cut off the environmental review ordered by Obama.
Organizations from 350.org, the Sierra Club, CREDO and other groups have planned a rally outside the White House on Tuesday, Jan. 31. In a statement, they said of the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and Keystone XL Pipeline, “Both pipelines ignited widespread grassroots resistance worldwide, and Trump’s executive orders are renewing mass opposition to the projects.”
Kinjal Shah is a third-year student majoring in English writings track. She can be reached at KS826308@wcupa.edu.