Army Corps decision on Dakota Access Pipeline is pure politics

Earlier this week, the Army Corps of Engineers decided to block the final easement needed for the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross under Lake Oahe. Tribal groups and environmentalists celebrated the federal government’s decision to reject the permit, claiming that the pipeline threatens tribal land and the environment. Unfortunately, the easement was blocked for reasons that are motivated by political pressure. The Army Corps’s decision has little to do with scientific evaluations or concern for economic benefits, providing further evidence of the extreme politicization in the federal regulatory process.

In its 2015 environmental assessment, the Army Corps specifically addressed the concerns surrounding the portion of the pipeline that would cross under Lake Oahe. The Army Corps rejected these concerns, noting Dakota Access’s effort to include safety features that would “minimize the risk of spills and reduce or remediate any potential damages.” The environmental assessment concluded that there was such a minimal effect on the environment that there was not even a need to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement.


One will note that the Army Corps’s sudden reversal on this is based on no new evidence at all.

Instead, the Army Corps based their decision on “a need to explore alternative routes.” This statement misleads the reader into thinking that alternative routes have not already been explored, despite the fact that the environmental assessment did study other routes and found that the planned route under Lake Oahe was the “preferred route” due to minimization of environmental impact. Not only this, but the environmental assessment determined that building the pipeline was a superior alternative to not having the pipeline at all, due to the lack of transport alternatives available to meet demand for crude oil as well as the greatly increased potential for spillage when transporting crude by rail or truck.

The other factor the Army Corps cited in its decision to block the permit was the need for “discussions” with the Standing Rock tribe. Again, this seems to indicate that discussions have yet to occur, but the Army Corps had previously pointed out its “good faith effort to consult with the tribes and that it considered all tribal comments.”

And yet, despite the fact that the Dakota Access developers and Army Corps engineers have  followed the regulatory and legal process, the pipeline’s construction has suddenly been halted. The reason for this is the Obama Administration’s decision, “mere minutes” after a federal judge had declined to block construction of the pipeline, to block construction itself.

This unilateral decision is especially rash considering the economic benefits the pipeline promises. Construction of the pipeline is a $3.7 billion project which would support between 8,000-12,000 jobs and raise an estimated $201 million in taxes.

This decision threatens the entire regulatory and judicial process that had sided with the scientific evaluations that determined the Dakota Access pipeline should not be blocked. President Obama should reconsider this decision instead of allowing political pressure to cloud his judgment.

Andrew Wilford is an associate policy analyst based in Washington, D.C. He graduated from American University in 2016 and is a Young Voices Advocate.

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.