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Senator says Army Corps has been told to approve Dakota pipeline easement

Pipeline protesters in North Dakota last month.
(David Goldman / Associated Press)

The acting secretary of the Army has directed the Army Corps of Engineers to proceed with an easement necessary to complete the Dakota Access pipeline, Republican North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven said Tuesday.

Hoeven issued a statement late in the evening after, he said, acting Army Secretary Robert Speer informed him of the decision. Hoeven said he also spoke with Vice President Mike Pence.

A spokesman for the Army did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday night. Hoeven spokesman Don Canton said Speer’s move means the easement “isn’t quite issued yet, but they plan to approve it” within days.

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The crossing under Lake Oahe, a wide section of the Missouri River in southern North Dakota, is the final big chunk of work on the four-state, $3.8-billion pipeline to carry North Dakota oil through South Dakota and Iowa to Illinois. President Trump on Jan. 24 called on the Army Corps of Engineers to reconsider its December decision to withhold permission until more study is done on the crossing.

The move is likely to be challenged in court by the Standing Rock Sioux, who have spent months protesting the project along with supporters from around the country. The tribe gets drinking water from the river and worries a pipeline leak would pollute the water. The developer, Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, says the pipeline is safe.

An environmental assessment conducted last year determined the crossing would not have a significant impact on the environment. However, then-Assistant Army Secretary for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy on Dec. 4 declined to issue an easement, saying a broader environmental study was warranted because of opposition by the Standing Rock Sioux.

Energy Transfer Partners called Darcy’s decision politically motivated and accused then-President Obama’s administration of delaying the matter until he left office. Two days before he left the White House, the corps launched a study of the crossing that could take up to two years to complete.

Trump on Jan. 24 — just four days after he took office — signed an executive action telling the corps to quickly reconsider the Dec. 4 decision.

The company appears poised to begin drilling under the lake immediately. Workers have already drilled entry and exit holes for the Oahe crossing, and the company has put oil in the pipeline leading up to the lake in anticipation of finishing the project, Executive Vice President Joey Mahmoud said in court documents filed this month.

Hundreds and at times thousands of pipeline opponents who have dubbed themselves “water protectors” have camped on federal land near the crossing site since last August, often clashing with police and prompting more than 625 arrests. The camp’s population has thinned to fewer than 300 because of harsh winter weather and a plea by Standing Rock Chairman Dave Archambault for the camp to disband before the spring flooding season.

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