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Dakota Access pipeline developer asks federal court for permission to proceed

Protesters have stood in the path of an oil pipeline that is under construction near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, which straddles North and South Dakota.

A day after the Obama administration said it would continue to withhold a final permit for the Dakota Access pipeline, thousands of protesters across the country urged the administration to shut down construction for good.

The company building the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, of Dallas, is fighting back, filing motions Tuesday in federal district court in Washington asking a judge to declare "that Dakota Access Pipeline has the legal right-of-way to build, complete and operate the Dakota Access Pipeline without any further action from the Army Corps of Engineers."

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The Corps, the federal agency that reviews projects involving water crossings, has withheld a final easement permit for the 1,170-mile, four-state oil pipeline to cross one particularly contentious portion of its planned route: Lake Oahe in North Dakota.

The lake is a dammed section of the Missouri River next to the reservation of the Standing Rock Sioux Indian tribe, which has argued that the pipeline will damage sacred sites and put its water supply at risk.

The Corps first announced it would withhold the permit in September while it reviewed its approval process for the project. It was joined in that announcement by the Justice and Interior departments.

On Monday, the Corps said it had completed that review and that the process had "comported" with the law.

But the agency said it would continue to withhold a permit for the lake crossing because additional review and analysis, as well as new consultation with the Standing Rock Sioux, were "warranted in light of the history of the Great Sioux Nation's dispossession of lands, the importance of Lake Oahe to the Tribe, our government-to-government relationship, and the statute governing easements through government property."

Energy Transfer Partners and other pipeline supporters responded angrily to the decision. Kelcy Warren, the company's chief executive, said the Corps was conducting "a sham process" as a "result of political interference from the Obama administration."

"This action is motivated purely by politics at the expense of a company that has done nothing but play by the rules it was given," Warren said.

Warren contributed to the campaign of President-elect Donald Trump, who is a modest investor in Energy Transfer Partners.

Earlier this month, President Obama said in an interview with the social media start-up NowThis News that the Corps was considering rerouting the pipeline as a way "to accommodate sacred lands of Native Americans."

Opponents of the pipeline praised the decision but said they would continue to demand that the Corps reject the crossing at Lake Oahe.

The protest started this spring with a handful of tribal members camping near the pipeline route but exploded late in the summer to include thousands of Native Americans from across the country, many calling themselves "water protectors." National environmental groups joined the fight, casting it as part of a broader fight against climate change.

The protests on Tuesday, in which people marched and gathered at Corps offices across the country, were promoted by groups such as the Indigenous Environmental Network but also by Bill McKibben, the author, activist and co-founder of 350.org, the global grassroots group that has helped lead "Keep It in the Ground" actions intended to reduce the extraction of fossil fuels.

By midday, thousands of protesters had gathered in San Francisco, Chicago and other cities.

The Dakota Access pipeline, which began construction early this year, would transport as much 500,000 barrels of crude oil daily from the Bakken production region of North Dakota to an existing pipeline in Patoka, Ill. Energy Transfer Partners has said the pipeline is safer than transporting oil by rail and that it is already more than 80% complete.

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UPDATES:

1:40 p.m.: This story  has been updated throughout with staff reporting.

This article was originally published at 9:35 a.m.

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