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The pipeline has become a focal point of protests against the final stage of the project, which is opposed by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, stemming from fears of damage to Lake Oahe, next to the tribe's reservation.
"Today's announcement will allow for the final step, which is granting of the easement," said Robert Speer, the acting secretary of the Army. "Once that it done, we will have completed all the tasks in the presidential memorandum of Jan. 24, 2017."
Speer said that the decision was made based on a sufficient amount of already available information that supported granting the easement request and that, as a result, the notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement was terminated.
In a statement, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe said it was "undaunted in its commitment to challenge an easement announcement by the U.S. Department of the Army for the Dakota Access Pipeline." Attorneys for the tribe believe that the easement cannot be granted legally at this time.
“The Obama administration correctly found that the Tribe’s treaty rights needed to be acknowledged and protected, and that the easement should not be granted without further review and consideration of alternative crossing locations,” said Jan Hasselman, lead attorney for the tribe. “Trump’s reversal of that decision continues a historic pattern of broken promises to Indian Tribes and unlawful violation of Treaty rights. They will be held accountable in court.”
“Americans have come together in support of the Tribe asking for a fair, balanced and lawful pipeline process," said Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. "The environmental impact statement was wrongfully terminated. This pipeline was unfairly rerouted across our treaty lands. The Trump administration -- yet again -- is poised to set a precedent that defies the law and the will of Americans and our allies around the world.”
In December, the Army Corps of Engineers was directed to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement by then-Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy to address concerns about the last mile and half of the pipeline, part of which would go underneath Lake Oahe.
President Trump signed a memo on Jan. 24 that instructed the secretary of the Army to expedite approval of the pipeline. The Army announced last week it was proceeding accordingly with its review of the easement.
The easement will allow the completion the pipeline under Lake Oahe. The 1,172 mile Dakota Access Pipeline will connect oil production areas in North Dakota with a crude oil terminal near Patoka, Illinois.
In a statement, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said, "Today's announcement by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers brings this issue one step closer to final resolution — and delivers the certainty and clarity I've been demanding."