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Feds deny permit for Dakota Access pipeline

Federal officials have denied the final permits required for the Dakota Access Pipeline project in North Dakota. 

The Army Corps of Engineers on Sunday announced it would instead conduct an environmental impact review of the 1,170-mile pipeline project and determine if there are other ways to route it to avoid a crossing on the Missouri River. 

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“Although we have had continuing discussion and exchanges of new information with the Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access, it’s clear that there’s more work to do,” Army Assistant Secretary for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy said in a statement. 

“The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing.”  

The announcement comes one day before the Army Corps of Engineers’ deadline for demonstrators to leave the protest site. The governor of North Dakota had also issued an emergency evacuation order.

Protestors have clashed with police, and Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a Sunday statement that the Department of Justice “will continue to monitor the situation in North Dakota in the days ahead” and stands “ready to provide resources to help all those who can play a constructive role in easing tensions.”

“The department remains committed to supporting local law enforcement, defending protestors’ constitutional right to free speech and fostering thoughtful dialogue on the matter,” she added.

“The safety of everyone in the area – law enforcement officers, residents and protesters alike – continues to be our foremost concern.”

Dakota Access has turned into a flashpoint in both the indigenous rights and anti-fossil fuel movement. 

The tribe has said the federal government failed to consult it before approving the pipeline’s route this summer, and warned the proposed path threatens both cultural heritage sites and drinking water supplies from the Missouri River. 

Sunday’s decision is a major victory for the tribe, which sued against other permitting decisions for the project, pushed the Obama administration to deny it, and rallied tribal allies and anti-pipeline activists to the cause. 

"We wholeheartedly support the decision of the administration and commend with the utmost gratitude the courage it took on the part of President Obama, the Army Corps, the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior to take steps to correct the course of history and to do the right thing,” tribal Chairman Dave Archambault said. 

Interior Secretary Sally JewellSarah (Sally) Margaret JewellOVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA declines to tighten key air pollution standards | Despite risks to polar bears, Trump pushes ahead with oil exploration in Arctic | Biden to champion climate action in 2021 OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA proposes reapproving uses of pesticide linked to brain damage in children | Hispanic caucus unhappy with transition team treatment of Lujan Grisham | Schwarzenegger backs Nichols to lead EPA OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump admin to sell oil leases at Arctic wildlife refuge before Biden takes office |Trump administration approves controversial oil testing method in Gulf of Mexico | Rep. Scott wins House Agriculture Committee gavel MORE also released a statement in support of the decision, saying it is in line with federal laws designed to assess environmental impacts of infrastructure projects.

"The thoughtful approach established by the Army today ensures that there will be an in-depth evaluation of alternative routes for the pipeline and a closer look at potential impacts, as envisioned by NEPA," Jewell said.

But Dakota Access developer Energy Transfer Partners says the pipeline route is safe and notes that the company and federal regulators worked to consult the tribe before beginning construction. 

The company has a strong ally in President-elect Donald TrumpDonald TrumpIran convicts American businessman on spying charge: report DC, state capitals see few issues, heavy security amid protest worries Pardon-seekers have paid Trump allies tens of thousands to lobby president: NYT MORE, who supports the project, according to a notice sent out to supporters last week. 

Energy Transfers didn't immediately respond to the announcement on Sunday, but CEO Kelcy Warren has previously said the project — a majority of which is complete — will move forward, even if it means waiting for Trump to take office next month. 

Supporters blasted the Sunday decision, but noted that the ultimate fate of the project rests with Trump. 

“President Obama’s decision not to issue the final easement is a rejection of the entire regulatory and judicial system, as well as the scores of Army Corps of Engineers and civil servants who toiled for more than 800 days to ensure the process was followed correctly, in accordance with the law,” said Craig Stevens, a spokesman for the group Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now.

“With President-elect Trump set to take office in just a few weeks, we are hopeful that this is not the final word on the Dakota Access Pipeline.” 

The Standing Rock tribe’s opposition to the project — which it took to federal court in August — attracted the support of the anti-fossil fuel coalition of environmentalists that lined up against other projects like the Keystone Xl pipeline. 

Together, an army of protesters — calling themselves “water protectors” — established a camp in North Dakota south of Bismarck protesting the project, while the tribe fought against it in the courts and within the Obama administration. 

After a federal judge approved of regulators’ initial permitting process for the pipeline, the Obama administration immediately stepped in and said it would conduct a new review of the project. That review culminated in Sunday’s announcement from the Army Corps. 

“Dakota Access took a reckless gamble with its investor’s money when it built its pipeline to either side of the river without the easement,” said Jan Hasselman, the Earthjustice lawyer who represented the tribe in its suit against the project. 

“Despite the extraordinary public controversy and overwhelming opposition to this pipeline, Dakota Access rejected the government’s request to voluntary cease construction. Today, Dakota Access and its investors reap the consequences of this reckless gamble.”

Greens and tribal groups hailed the Sunday decision, while acknowledging that the issue is likely to ignite again after Trump’s inauguration.

“The fight to reject the Dakota Access Pipeline is not over, but the administration’s announcement today ensures Energy Transfer cannot continue its assault on the Standing Rock Sioux’s home, history, and heritage,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement. 

Democratic lawmakers who sided with the tribe celebrated as well.

“In the year 2016, we should not continue to trample on Native American sovereignty,” said Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden tax-hike proposals face bumpy road ahead Senate Democrats leery of nixing filibuster 'Almost Heaven, West Virginia' — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate MORE (I-Vt.). 

“We should not endanger the water supply of millions of people,” the former Democratic presidential candidate continued in a statement. “We should not become more dependent on fossil fuel and accelerate the planetary crisis of climate change.” 

But local lawmakers and pipeline supporters appeared leery of the announcement.

“Today’s unfortunate decision sends a chilling signal to other who want to build infrastructure in this country,” Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said.

“I’m encouraged that we can restore law and order next month when we get a president with an adult administration who is not going to thumb his nose at the rule of law.”

Sen. John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenMcConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Senate GOP opposition grows to objecting to Electoral College results Man charged with criminal mischief for allegedly vandalizing senator's office with ax MORE (R-N.D.) said the decision “violates the rule of law and fails to resolve the issue.”

“Instead, it passes the decision off to the next administration, which has already indicated it will approve the easement, and in the meantime perpetuates a difficult situation for North Dakotans.”

The state’s Democratic senator, Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampHarrison seen as front-runner to take over DNC at crucial moment Biden to tap Vilsack for Agriculture secretary: reports OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA guidance may exempt some water polluters from Supreme Court permit mandate | Vilsack's stock rises with Team Biden | Arctic wildfires linked to warming temperatures: NOAA MORE (D-N.D.), who met with Trump on Friday for a discussion that reportedly included the project, warned that the “pipeline still remains in limbo.”

“The incoming administration already stated its support for the project and the courts have already stated twice that it appeared the Corps followed the required process in considering the permit,” she said in a statement.

“For the next month and a half, nothing about this project will change.”

Updated 5:39 p.m.