So much for dodging Dakota Access….
At a town hall in Laos on Wednesday, President Barack Obama sounded like he wasn’t tuned in to the specifics of the Dakota Access pipeline and the big tribal protest against it at the Cannonball–Missouri confluence in North Dakota. Back in D.C. on Friday, minutes after a federal judge ruled that Dakota Access could keep laying its Bakken oil pipeline, President Obama appears to have dispatched three federal agencies to say “Whoa!”
Yesterday afternoon, the Department of Justice, the Department of the Interior, and the U.S. Army released a joint statement saying the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and its allies have raised legitimate concerns about the Dakota Access pipeline that require further discussion. The government will invite tribes to formal talks this fall to discuss “(1) within the existing statutory framework, what should the federal government do to better ensure meaningful tribal input into infrastructure-related reviews and decisions and the protection of tribal lands, resources, and treaty rights; and (2) should new legislation be proposed to Congress to alter that statutory framework and promote those goals.” The Army will not allow Dakota Access to lay pipe on Army Corps of Engineers land “bordering or under Lake Oahe” until the Corps has reviewed the project in the context of the National Environmental Protection Act and other federal laws. The feds are asking Dakota Access to “voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe.”
Indigenous Environmental Network activist recognizes the Obama Administration’s action is a pause, not a full stop. Nonetheless, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe calls the federal intervention “stunning.” Standing Rock Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II sees the administration’s action as more significant than the court ruling: “A public policy win is a lot stronger than a judicial win…. It’s a win for all Indians. It’s a win for indigenous people.” Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, calls it “flagrant overreach.” The Obama Administration’s action still does not go as far as an amendment to the Water Resources Development Act proposed Thursday by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders to require the Army to conduct an environmental review before granting Dakota Access permission to cross Lake Oahe.
Maybe the Obama Administration wasn’t paying attention to Dakota Access earlier this week. Maybe our Constitutional scholar-in-chief was simply exercising executive restraint and allowing the judicial branch to hear out the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and issue its ruling. But yesterday’s statement makes clear that, far from forgetting the reservation he visited in 2014, President Obama has the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the Dakota Access pipeline, and environmental justice very much on his mind.