Army Corps told to clear way for Dakota Access construction

The acting secretary of the Army has instructed federal officials to issue the easement necessary to build a controversial segment of the Dakota Access pipeline, members of the North Dakota congressional delegation said Tuesday.

“The Acting Secretary of the Army Robert Speer informed us that he has directed the Army Corps of Engineers to proceed with the easement needed to complete the Dakota Access Pipeline,” Sen. John HoevenJohn HoevenGOP senator criticizes EPA head's closed-door meeting in North Dakota Senate GOP eyes end to August session McCain absence adds to GOP agenda’s uncertainty MORE (R-N.D.) said in a Tuesday night statement.

“This will enable the company to complete the project, which can and will be built with the necessary safety features to protect the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and others downstream.”

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Speer’s order comes one week after President Trump signed a directive instructing the Army Corps to quickly issue a construction easement for a stretch of the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota. 

Hoeven’s statement did not say the Army Corps has actually issued the easement, a step that would allow construction to move forward. An agency official did not immediately reply to a request for comment on Tuesday.

“For months, North Dakotans have been on edge over the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the protests surrounding it, and for months they have faced uncertainty and delays on the ultimate fate of the project while constant disruptions took a toll on the sense of safety and security of communities near the construction," Sen. Heidi HeitkampHeidi HeitkampTrump's Democratic tax dilemma It's time for McConnell to fight with Trump instead of against him The real litmus test is whether pro-life democrats vote for pro-life legislation MORE (D-N.D.) said. 

“Now that the Acting Secretary of the Army has directed the Army Corps of Engineers to issue an easement to complete the project, we know construction will move forward — though we are waiting on more information in regards to a timeline for when construction can begin."

The easement in question would allow Dakota Access developers to build the pipeline under Lake Oahe in North Dakota, near the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s reservation in the state. 

The tribe, saying the pipeline threatens its water supply and sacred sites in the area, protested against it and brought a lawsuit to block it last year. The Army Corps approved but never issued the easement under President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaCongress needs to assert the war power against a dangerous president CNN's Don Lemon: Anyone supporting Trump ‘complicit' in racism DOJ warrant of Trump resistance site triggers alarm MORE, and in November administration officials said they would not issue the easement and instead conduct an environmental impact assessment of the line. That process could delay the project for years. 

In a statement, the Standing Rock Sioux contended the Army Corps can’t stop the environmental review and issue the easement without consulting Congress or the tribe first. 

“The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe will vigorously pursue legal action to ensure the environmental impact statement order issued late last year is followed so the pipeline process is legal, fair and accurate,” the statement said. 

Dakota Access protests cropped up around the country last year, and thousands of demonstrators established protest camps against it in North Dakota.

More than 600 demonstrators have been arrested at the camp, and Hoeven said 20 Bureau of Indian Affairs law enforcement offices have arrived in the state to police any protest activities that might happen there. 

"It’s time to get to work and finish this important piece of energy infrastructure enhancing America’s energy security and putting North Dakotans and Americans back to work," Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said in a statement.

Updated at 9:34 p.m.