Overnight Energy & Environment

Overnight Energy: Opponents aim to tie up Dakota pipeline for years | Gore meets Trump

Erik Molvar

PIPELINE DRAMA: The Army Corps’ decision to withhold a construction easement for the Dakota Access pipeline and conduct a new environmental review of the pipeline could hold up the progress for years, even if Donald Trump tries to undo the review after he takes office.

Tribal groups and environmentalists cheered the Sunday decision to block immediate construction on a section of the 1,170-mile project, effectively stopping it at a critical river crossing in North Dakota.


An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) could take years to execute, meaning the move would delay the pipeline indefinitely. Supporters want Trump to undo the environmental review once he takes office, but groups opposed to the pipeline said that move would trigger a legal fight that could tie up the project on its own.

Jan Hasselman, an Earthjustice lawyer who represents the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in its lawsuit against the project, said any Trump move is “subject to judicial review” and that the tribe is planning to sue.

Sunday’s decision isn’t the end of the Dakota Access fight, and supporters are preparing to redouble their efforts to convince the incoming administration to move quickly on the project.

Trump has backed the pipeline, something his transition team reiterated on Monday.

“That’s something we support construction of, and will review the full situation in the White House and make an appropriate determination at that time,” Trump spokesman Jason Miller said Monday.

But pipeline opponents said they’re ready to continue their fight.

“The current administration did the right thing and we need to educate the incoming administration and help them understand the right decision was made,” Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault told Reuters on Monday.

Read more here.

WH REACTION: President Obama took no part in the decision to block the Dakota Access easement, a White House spokesman said on Monday.

“The White House did not and has not been dictating the outcome, but rather has been updated by the Army Corps on the negotiations,” Josh Earnest said during a press briefing.

Dakota Access supporters have called the pipeline decision “political” and slammed the Obama administration for denying a project that it previously approved.

The Army Corps said the denial was a “policy decision” made after a five-hour meeting with tribal officials. But Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners, the pipeline developers, criticized that as “Washington code for a political decision.”

“This is nothing new from this administration, since over the last four months the administration has demonstrated by its action and inaction that it intended to delay a decision in this matter until President Obama is out of office,” the companies said.

But Earnest disputed that, saying that the Army Corps alone was behind the decision.

“The result has been for this federal agency to determine that more study is required,” he said. “Ultimately that was a decision that was arrived at by the agency, in this case the U.S. Army.”

Read more here.

Tomorrow in The Hill: Where does the Dakota Access pipeline battle go from here? We’ve got five major things to watch for in the coming fight, including Trump’s strategy to get it approved and the role of Congress, tomorrow in The Hill.

WATER BILL DEAL: Lawmakers reached a deal on a massive waterways bill that provides drought relief for California and emergency aid for the lead-stricken community of Flint, Mich.

But Congress will still have to appropriate funding for the drinking water crisis, meaning the issue will factor into the spending bill debate.

“We will continue working to reach a final agreement and will hold Republican leaders accountable to their promise to pass assistance by the end of the year,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said in a statement.

The water legislation, which authorizes dozens of infrastructure projects around the country, includes $170 million in authorizing language for the Flint drinking water crisis — with the goal of appropriating the money in a continuing resolution (CR). The Hill’s Melanie Zanona has more here.

TRUMP’S EPA MAN IN NORTH CAROLINA?: Donald van der Vaart, the top environmental regulator in North Carolina, is among a handful of people the Trump transition team is considering to run the federal EPA, sources say.

Van der Vaart has led North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality since last year under outgoing Gov. Pat McCrory (R), and has previously held various mid- and high-level positions there.

The Hill spoke with van der Vaart Monday to ask about Trump. He said he has not met with Trump, and referred other questions about the potential nomination to the transition team, which did not respond.

Van der Vaart said that as a state regulator, he would prioritize giving more authority to states to enforce environmental laws.

“The EPA in this administration has come away from the cooperative arrangement that the original intention of Congress when developing these laws were envisioned,” he said. “There’s no longer a collegial interaction.”

Van der Vaart has a PhD in chemical engineering, so he also wants to improve what he sees as a sometimes flawed, secretive scientific process at the EPA.

He believes that human activity causes climate change, breaking with most Republican leaders. But he doesn’t believe the dominant models and forecasts for how that change will happen.

“We have to have a better understanding before we start spending billions and billions of dollars,” he said.

Van der Vaart has been an outspoken opponent of the Clean Power Plan and the Clean Water Rule, two of Trump’s biggest targets for repeal at the EPA.

Overall, he says he’d be a good EPA head.

“I’d be very honored to serve in this administration,” he said. “I’ve got more than 20 years in this area, and I think that having a scientific along with a legal background is critical in rebalancing the EPA.”

GORE MEETS WITH TRUMP: Climate activist and former Vice President Al Gore had an unplanned meeting with President-elect Donald Trump Monday that Gore described as “extremely interesting.”

Gore was scheduled to meet with Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who reportedly wants to make climate advocacy a priority as first daughter.

But Gore told reporters that his meeting with Ivanka was short, and he had a much longer meeting with the elder Trump.

“I had a lengthy and very productive session with the president-elect,” Gore told reporters after the meeting. “It was a sincere search for areas of common ground.”

Trump is a climate change skeptic and has called the concept a Chinese hoax, while promising to undo all of Obama’s climate legacy, including the Clean Power Plan and the Paris agreement.

Nonetheless, the “An Inconvenient Truth” star said the meeting was “extremely interesting conversation, and to be continued, and I’m just going to leave it at that.”

Read more here.

ON TAP TUESDAY: The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on the Volkswagen emissions cheating settlement. Two Environmental Protection Agency officials — Cynthia Giles, the Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, and Janet McCabe, the Acting Assistant Administrator of the Office of Air and Radiation — will testify.


Check out stories from Monday and this weekend …

-Opponents seek to tie up Dakota pipeline for years

-Senate Dems draw hard line over miners’ pension bill

-Senator blasts GOP push for California drought language in water bill

-White House: Obama did not ‘dictate’ Dakota Access decision

-Al Gore has ‘extremely interesting’ meeting with Trump

-Obama puts Dakota pipeline on Trump’s desk

-EPA chief: Pipeline rejections are not a ‘policy signal’

-Ryan: Dakota pipeline pause is ‘big-government decision-making at its worst’

-Sanders sings Obama’s praises for stopping Dakota pipeline

-Feds deny permit for Dakota Access pipeline

-Five potential Trump EPA picks


Please send tips and comments to Timothy Cama, tcama@thehill.com; and Devin Henry, dhenry@thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @Timothy_Cama@dhenry@thehill  


Tags Al Gore Dakota Access Debbie Stabenow Donald Trump oil pipelines

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