Decision to allow Dakota Access Pipeline could come this week

An attorney for the Department of Justice told a court today that a decision to allow the final easement needed to complete the Dakota Access Pipeline could come as soon as Friday. From ABC News:

A decision “may occur by the end of the week,” said Department of Justice attorney Matt Marinelli on behalf of the Army Corps of Engineers. If the easement is granted, construction on the controversial oil pipeline would resume.

Once the Army Corps review process is complete, a final decision will be made and the Army Corps will notify Congress as required, according to Marinelli.

Opponents of the pipeline have argued that once the Army Corps of Engineers announced a full environmental review of the remaining portion of the project in December, they are bound to complete the review, which could take up to two years. A lawyer for EarthJustice tells Reuters any decision to the contrary will be appealed immediately:

Jan Hasselman, an attorney with Earthjustice, who represents the Standing Rock Sioux, said the tribe will challenge the U.S. government in court if the Army grants the easement…

“Our position is the tribe’s treaty rights and the law require the full (Environmental Impact Study) process that the government initiated in December. Issuing the easement without that process will be a serious violation of the law,” Hasselman told Reuters.

The tribe and its lawyers will certainly appeal but it’s not a given that a court will rule in their favor. For one thing, the Army Corps of Engineers previously reviewed the projected and found no environmental reason not to proceed with it. The decision not to grant the final easement was made by an Obama political appointee against the advice of the Army Corps of Engineers which had recommended granting the easement. If the decision not to grant the easement was political rather than substantive, a judge might conclude the decision to reverse it can be made in the same way.

In addition, the protest movement that led to the last minute decision by an Obama appointee has fallen on hard times. The camp once had as many as 10,000 protesters but the harsh winter and repeated requests by the Standing Rock Sioux that protesters vacate has reduced the populations to a few hundred. As I noted Friday, 74 protesters trying to set up a new camp on land owned by the development company were arrested last week. Protest leader Chase Iron Eyes has been charged with inciting a riot, which is a felony that could result in up to 5 years in jail.