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Army Corps Of Engineers Grants Easement For Dakota Access Pipeline


The federal government made a big step toward completing a controversial oil pipeline in North Dakota. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it will grant the final easement needed to finish construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The move comes after President Trump signed an executive action directing the Corps to push ahead with the project. Prairie Public Radio's Amy Sisk joins us from Bismarck via Skype. Amy, what happened today?

AMY SISK, BYLINE: Yeah. The Army Corps officially notified the federal district court in Washington, D.C., as well as Congress that they're granting the final easement for this pipeline. And so this easement will allow the pipeline to be built under the Missouri River here in North Dakota. And this easement had been put on hold while the Army Corps was supposed to carry out a thorough environmental review of the project. It's called an environmental-impact statement, and it's now being withdrawn.

SIEGEL: So how soon could construction resume in that case?

SISK: Well, usually there's a two-week waiting period after notification to Congress. But court documents say that that waiting period will be waived, and the easement will be granted within 24 hours. And so that means construction could in theory start this week. But the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which has been fighting this pipeline - they and their legal team say that they will take - have said that they will be taking legal action to try to stop this project from moving forward.

SIEGEL: Amy, this seems like a complete 180 from what happened in the last weeks of the Obama administration. What are protesters there saying about it?

SISK: Yeah. So protesters as well as the Standing Rock Tribe were counting on this environmental review that was initiated under Obama as an effort to try to stop the pipeline. So we'll have to see how the protesters react. You know, we saw this fall on the stage - a number of demonstrations to try to stop the pipeline here on the ground. That could happen again because there are protesters still here on the ground in North Dakota.

SIEGEL: Yeah. What happens to protesters who are still camped out near the pipeline?

SISK: Well, the Standing Rock Tribe has actually asked those protesters to leave. But some protesters have left. There are several hundred who remain here in North Dakota. But they're pretty determined not to leave. Now, at the same time, the Corps of Engineers has announced that it's actually shutting down the area where these protest camps are on February 22 due to concerns about flooding. These protest camps surround a flood plain.

Also, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has said that it's going to be sending extra law enforcement to help clean up these camps. And the tribe says that this conflict is now moving to - this conflict really should be fought in Washington, D.C., with the federal administration as well as the courts.

SIEGEL: Again, the news today is that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it will grant the final easement that's needed to finish construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline - that announcement in keeping with President Trump's executive action directing the Corps to push ahead with what has been a controversial project. Amy Sisk of Prairie Public Broadcasting, thanks for talking with us.

SISK: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Amy Sisk comes to us from Inside Energy, a public media collaboration focused on America's energy issues. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Amy Sisk covers energy for WESA and StateImpact Pennsylvania, a public media collaboration focused on energy. She moved to Pennsylvania in 2017 from another energy-rich state, North Dakota, where she often reported from coal mines, wind farms and the oil patch. While there, she worked for NPR member station Prairie Public Broadcasting and the Inside Energy public media collaboration. She spent eight months following the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy, her work frequently airing on NPR and other outlets. Amy loves traveling to rural communities -- she visited 217 small towns on the Dakota prairie -- and also covers rural issues here in southwestern Pennsylvania.