Protesters at the Standing Rock Camp have today been celebrating a major step towards victory in their fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline, after the Army Corps of Engineers denied Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the pipeline, a crucial permit to drill under the Missouri River. The Obama Administration said that there was “a need to explore alternate routes”, and the Army is set to undertake an extensive environmental impact statement that would involve “full public input and analysis”.
President Barack Obama spoke on the issue last month in an interview with NowThis News, saying “We are 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.” Those interviewed at the protest camp have been sceptical of Obama’s handling of the situation, especially after police clashed with unarmed protesters late on November 20th, leaving scores injured. The President spoke very little of the unfolding situation, but it now seems that his administration had been working hard behind the scenes to ensure the pipeline was not allowed to cross the river.
The timing of this announcement comes on the day that thousands of veterans have descended on Standing Rock in order to protect those who have been subject to undue harassment from law enforcement, after raising a staggering $1.1m on their GoFundMe page. It was unclear whether police would clear the protest camp this week as per a letter released from the Army Corps, with some reporting that the order had been reversed, but it now seems very unlikely that protesters will be forced to leave for a “free speech zone”. Mainstream media had also finally picked the story up and sent reporters to the area, but it would not be unwise to suggest that they sensed a potential stand-off between veterans and police that would have been especially tricky to deal with. These media outlets had not spent too much time on the subject before, waiting for more flashy headlines of violence and tension before covering it.
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) December 4, 2016
Senator Bernie Sanders, who has been one of the only vocal opponents of the pipeline, praised President Obama on Twitter for finally taking definitive action. He also posted on his Facebook page that the government “should not endanger the water supply of millions of people”, adding “we should not become more dependent on fossil fuel and accelerate the planetary crisis of climate change.”
Although it’s tempting for those involved to get carried away in celebration, this conflict is far from over. Energy Transfer Partners will undoubtedly appeal the decision and cite the ‘potential economic costs’ of rerouting the pipeline, and protesters will not have a friend in the White House come next year. President-Elect Donald Trump has come out in support of the pipeline, and potential conflicts of interest have been unearthed through his most recent federal disclosure forms. AP reports that Trump owns between $100,000 to $250,000 of shares in Phillips 66, who own a quarter share in the DAPL project.
Since Trump would benefit personally from the pipeline being built, it’s expected that he and his pro-oil and anti-“department of environmental” administration will be pushing the pipeline through as soon as possible. For protesters, it’s just a matter of trying to find an alternate route before that can happen. Undoubtedly, the members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe will not be letting their guard down just yet.