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Tribe cheers Obama talk of rerouting ND pipeline

Tribe cheers Obama talk of rerouting ND pipeline
© Erik Molvar

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe on Wednesday welcomed President Obama’s hint at rerouting the Dakota Access Pipeline they say threatens their land. 

At the same time, the suggestion drew scorn from the pipeline’s developers and its industry supporters, and green groups said Obama needs to block the pipeline entirely. 

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Obama told NowThis News on Tuesday that the Army Corps of Engineers “is examining whether there are ways to reroute the pipeline,” which the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe says threatens sacred sites and a water source near their reservation in North Dakota. 

It was the most concrete answer Obama has given on the controversial 1,170-mile, $3.8 billion pipeline since the tribe sued to stop its construction over the summer.   

“We applaud President Obama’s commitment to protect our sacred lands, our water and the water of 17 million others,” Dave Archambault, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux, said on Wednesday.

“The nation and the world are watching. The injustices done to Native people in North Dakota and throughout the country must be addressed. We believe President Obama and his administration will do the right thing.”

Dakota Access’s developers say they have gone to great lengths to plot the pipeline around sacred sites and make it environmentally friendly. Construction crews cannot build a portion of the pipeline over the Missouri River in North Dakota because federal officials are withholding a necessary easement pending a review of their permitting decisions for the project. 

“We are not aware that any consideration is being given to a reroute, and we remain confident we will receive our easement in a timely fashion,” a spokeswoman for Dakota Access developer Energy Transfer Partners told The Hill. 

Energy Transfers’s industry supporters on Wednesday were wary of Obama’s call to reroute the project, noting most of the pipeline outside of North Dakota has already been built.

“Although a reroute sounds simple enough, it would be, in fact, incredibly difficult and it might be impossible,” said Craig Stevens, a spokesman for the group Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now. 

“Even if possible, rerouting the line would require years to complete, new easements, new environmental and cultural studies, and cost hundreds of millions of dollars," he added.

"We remain hopeful that the administration will ultimately follow the rule of law and allow the project to be completed and operational without further delay."

The Dakota Access Pipeline has spurred protests in North Dakota and around the country, with anti-fossil fuel groups calling for the Obama administration to block the project despite its advanced construction. 

After Obama’s Tuesday statement, Lena Moffitt, the director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign, said, “The fact remains that there is no acceptable route for this dirty and dangerous pipeline.

“The Sierra Club stands in solidarity of the Standing Rock Sioux, and continue our calls on President Obama to conduct a full environmental review and reject the Dakota Access Pipeline.”

Climate group 350.org concurred. 

“There's no reroute that doesn't involve the same risks to water and climate,” Sara Shor, 350.org’s Keep It in the Ground campaign manager said.

“President Obama breaking the silence on Dakota Access is a testament to the powerful resistance of Indigenous leaders, but he shouldn't sit back while people are facing violent repression from militarized law enforcement on the ground. The President needs to reject the permit for this pipeline, now.”

Obama said Tuesday a decision on the pipeline will come after “several more weeks” of assessments.

“We’re going to let it play out for several more weeks and determine whether or not this can be resolved in a way that I think is properly attentive to the traditions of the first Americans,” he said.