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Science & Technology

Protesters Fear Trump Could Reverse Dakota Access Pipeline Decision


The Army Corps of Engineers says it is looking at alternative routes for the Dakota Access Pipeline. That decision announced Sunday was a win for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other protesters who've camped out at the construction site in North Dakota for months. This may not be the final word. President-elect Donald Trump says he would like to see the pipeline completed.

We're joined now by Julie Fedorchak. She chaired the commission that permitted the Dakota Access Pipeline project. Welcome, and thank you for joining us.

JULIE FEDORCHAK: Good evening, Ari.

SHAPIRO: What was your reaction when you heard about the decision by the Army Corps of Engineers?

FEDORCHAK: It was a surprise to me that they want to go back and do more work and look at other routes and do things that I think will have a much longer delay and potentially more environmental and cultural implications.

SHAPIRO: As you say, there have been many decisions to reroute the pipeline before this. It is mostly built. Do you see good paths left for it?

FEDORCHAK: Well, I really see three options. They can object in the courts, which they're already doing. And they can ask a new president for a different decision from the Corps of Engineers, and/or they can reroute. And those seem to me to be the three most obvious choices for the company moving forward.

SHAPIRO: Just having spent as much time on the maps as I know you have, if they chose to reroute, do you see a place for it to go?

FEDORCHAK: Well, you know, in any path forward, there's always different options that can be considered. But the benefit of the existing route is that it mirrors an already in place pipeline and that's just a pretty compelling reason for the existing route. It really minimizes new environmental damage, minimizes new damage to cultural resources because it's in an area that's already been developed and doesn't have native prairie and those sorts of things.

So I think there are - was a lot of work put on the existing route, and can a new route be found - probably. But could you find land owners at this point willing to provide easements? I think that's a big challenge. And you're going to be impacting more environmental and cultural resources if you're going to be constructing in a new area.

SHAPIRO: When you talk about the options available to the company, I've heard that if this pipeline is not completed, over-ground transportation of oil could be a solution. Given how much of the pipeline has been built already, do you see that as an option?

FEDORCHAK: I think over-ground transportation of crude oil is the most environmentally hazardous, and I would hate to see that to be the final solution. It's been a temporary solution for our state because the growth was so fast, and we didn't have the pipeline infrastructure in place.

But this project was one of the biggest export pipelines to serve this new Bakken oil development, and it's really a vital piece of the infrastructure here.

SHAPIRO: Just trying to get a sense of the possible routes for this pipeline - do you see a way this could be done that addresses the concerns of the tribes? I mean when you were approving this, was it sort of like, well, here's our first, second and third choice for the route. Now that the first choice is not available, you could go to the second or third choice. Or is it really like it was narrowed down to this last available route?

FEDORCHAK: The preferred route that was proposed to us was the only route proposed to us. So we didn't evaluate additional routes. There isn't a list of alternatives that exist today that could be pulled out now and said, let's go back to the drawing board and use this route. That doesn't exist from a regulatory standpoint in our office. Perhaps the company has some of that information.

But I will say this. The pipeline is largely in the ground. It's been constructed. It's been reclaimed. The route that was chosen and permitted was ultimately found to be well within the parameters of the law. All of the environmental and cultural resource considerations had been met.

And moving forward to find an alternative route, you're going to have to find landowners who are willing to provide an easement, which will be a challenge after the significant levels of protests. And I think you're going to ultimately be having a greater environmental impact to have to build the line again someplace else and impact all those new areas.

SHAPIRO: That's Julie Fedorchak, the chair of the North Dakota Public Service Commission, the panel that approved the Dakota Access Pipeline. Thank you for speaking with us.

FEDORCHAK: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.