The Obama administration said Sunday that it is denying an easement needed to build the Dakota Access Pipeline, which would run crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois. The project is mostly built on private land but requires approval from the Army Corps of Engineers to cross federally regulated waters, including Lake Oahe, a section of the Missouri River. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which governs a reservation near the lake, objects that the project threatens its water and violates sacred land. The Corps said it would examine new routes in consultation with tribal leaders.
It is hard not to have sympathy for the tribe. The Standing Rock and other Native American communities were victims of grave injustice as white Americans moved relentlessly west in pursuit of land and fortune. The area outside the reservation still holds historical and cultural significance, which deserves careful consideration.
Yet that is exactly what the Standing Rock Sioux already received, to the degree the federal government could provide it. A September court ruling denied its request for an injunction against the project, in part because, according to U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg, the federal government exceeded legal requirements that it consider potential archaeological damage and seek input from Native American leaders when considering permits for pipeline water crossings. In fact, the court documented the great lengths to which the Corps went to engage with the Standing Rock Sioux and adjust the routing when concerns were aired.
The Corps insists it faithfully followed the law but that it made a “policy decision” to seek “a more robust consideration of alternatives and additional public information,” according to a spokeswoman. Yet it is not as though the originally proposed route, which at places carefully snaked around sensitive sites, was arbitrary. In fact, it would parallel an existing gas pipeline tunneling below Lake Oahe. If this new process uncovers a Goldilocks route that everyone can support, great. But, as with any infrastructure project, it is unlikely there is a magic solution that satisfies every preference.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE WASHINGTON POST