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Obama Says Army Corps Is Considering Rerouting Dakota Access Pipeline


In North Dakota, protesters and police clashed again today over construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe says this oil pipeline would cross sacred land and could leak and contaminate natural resources. NPR's Jeff Brady joins us now from Bismarck. Hi, Jeff.


SHAPIRO: Catch us up on the latest. What's happening?

BRADY: So this morning, a group of protesters - they started building a wood pedestrian bridge across a creek. They were apparently trying to get back onto the property where the pipeline is being constructed. It's being built near a dam on the Missouri River.

And police used a boat to pull that bridge apart. The protesters continued to try to get over. The - some of them were swimming. It's very cold here right now. And some of them were in boats. Police told the protesters that if they continued to come on the land, they were going to be arrested. And that started as a standoff, and we're going to be, looks like, monitoring this all through the evening.

SHAPIRO: President Obama gave an interview this week about the situation. Remind us what he said.

BRADY: He did give an interview. He was speaking to this online news organization called NowThis. And he was asked about the protests against the pipeline, and here's what he had to say.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: My view is that there is a way for us to accommodate sacred lands of Native Americans. And you know, I think that right now the Army Corps is examining whether there are ways to reroute this pipeline.

BRADY: So reroute this pipeline - that was news to a lot of people, and it's kind of a key issue here because we're - this is - this overall pipeline - it's 1,200 miles long, but we're talking about one small section where it crosses the Missouri River south of Bismarck. And it's close to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. And so that announcement - it really surprised quite a few people.

SHAPIRO: And how have the people you've been talking to there in North Dakota responded to President Obama's remarks about this?

BRADY: Yeah, the chairman of the tribe - of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, Dave Archambault - he praised President Obama's commitment to protecting sacred land and water. But he really wants more than what the president is talking about there. He wants the Corps of Engineers to issue an immediate stop work order to stop all construction close to the river. And he calls the process for approving the pipeline flawed, and he wants a full environmental impact study.

The company building the pipeline - they - it seems like they were pretty surprised by this. A spokeswoman for the company said, quote, "we are not aware that any consideration is being given to reroute." And it really is a problem for them because construction is almost up to the Missouri River there. So you know, what would rerouting the pipeline look like? And we don't have any details from the Corps of Engineers. I've been trying to reach them all day but no luck so far.

SHAPIRO: This standoff has been going on for weeks now already. Where do you expect this to go from here?

BRADY: It - we're going to have to wait and see what happens with these protests tonight because of course last week, those protests turned violent. And some of these folks are very interested in stopping this entire project.

So we're going to be watching those protests, but we're also going to be watching the Corps of Engineers, what they're going to be doing because rerouting a nearly $4 billion project like this - that is a tall order.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Jeff Brady speaking with us from Bismarck, N.D. Thanks a lot.

BRADY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues and climate change. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.