While the nation was distracted by President Donald Trump's prime-time Supreme Court announcement, members of North Dakota's congressional delegation revealed that the controversial Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) was moving one step closer to completion.
"We are falling into a dangerous place where the United States government makes up its own rules."
—Indigenous Environmental Network
"The Acting Secretary of the Army Robert Speer informed us that he has directed the Army Corps of Engineers to proceed with the easement needed to complete the Dakota Access pipeline," Sen. (R-N.D.) said in a Tuesday night statement. "This will enable the company to complete the project, which can and will be built with the necessary safety features to protect the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and others downstream."
Sources told NBC News that "no easement had been formally granted as of Tuesday night but that one 'could come as soon as Wednesday or Thursday'."
The Standing Rock Sioux tribe, which led opposition to the pipeline that they say threatens drinking water and sacred sites, said the news was "disappointing [but] unfortunately not surprising." The tribe vowed to "vigorously pursue legal action" if and when the easement is in fact granted.
And the Standing Rock Sioux claim that the environmental review ordered by former President Barack Obama must still take place.
"The Army Corps lacks statutory authority to simply stop the [Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS] and issue the easement," the tribe said in a statement. "The Corps must review the presidential memorandum, notify Congress, and actually grant the easement. We have not received formal notice that the EIS has been suspended or withdrawn."
Indeed, "[t]o abandon the EIS would amount to a wholly unexplained and arbitrary change based on the president's personal views and, potentially, personal investments," the statement continued. "We stand ready to fight this battle against corporate interest superseding government procedure and the health and well-being of millions of Americans."
Trump—whose financial disclosures revealed investments in DAPL developer Energy Transfer Partners and Phillips 66, which owns a quarter of the oil line—signed executive orders last week advancing both DAPL and the Keystone XL pipeline. In response, Indigenous nations and environmentalists vowed a "massive mobilization and civil disobedience on a scale never seen of a newly seated president of the United States."
The Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), among those leading the resistance, reiterated that pledge on Tuesday night.
"We are falling into a dangerous place where the United States government makes up its own rules," IEN said in a statement. "We know the Trump administration stands to gain from this project, the president of United States is an investor himself, and their actions reveal a blatant disregard for the rule of law and a clear interest in lining their own pockets. This decision follows Trump's unfortunate attacks on immigrants, women, and the press. Now he is working even harder to attack sovereign tribal nations and historic treaties."
"Trump and his climate denying cabinet are clearly doing what is best for their businesses and are willing to put profit before human rights and the environment," the group said. "But make no mistake: we are prepared to mobilize and resist this brazen power grab."