BISMARCK — The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is calling on President Joe Biden’s administration to scrap its ongoing environmental review of the Dakota Access oil pipeline and start over, alleging that the federal government has overseen a biased process and botched its tribal obligations.
In a letter sent to the Department of the Army’s Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Works Jaime Pinkham on Wednesday, Sept. 22, Standing Rock said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “is already gravely off track” in its court-ordered environmental review of Dakota Access and laid out a series of requests for a revamped study.
“The process for the development of this document is fatally flawed and its content irredeemable,” Standing Rock Chairman Mike Faith wrote in a letter also signed by the chairmen of the Oglala Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes of South Dakota. “We ask that you step in to fix the process immediately.”
The Army Corps’ environmental review, which began last September and is slated for completion in September 2022, was first mandated after a federal district court judge last year revoked the pipeline’s permit at its Missouri River crossing just off the Standing Rock reservation. The tribe has long argued that the pipeline endangers their water supply.
As a party to the environmental review, Standing Rock is privy to draft versions of the study. The tribe said the draft reveals the Army Corps has routinely shielded key information from them in the early stages of the process and ignored technical and cultural information that they submitted.
The Army Corps did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment on the tribe's allegations and requests.
In a statement, a Department of the Army spokesperson said the agency does not comment on pending litigation and referred questions to the Department of Justice, which did not immediately respond to a separate inquiry.
The announcement from Standing Rock comes just two days after the operators of Dakota Access turned to the U.S. Supreme Court in a bid to nix the environmental review completely. Attorneys for Dakota Access argued in a petition to the nation's highest court that the requirement for additional review set a dangerous precedent for energy and infrastructure projects and leaves the pipeline “at significant risk of being shut down.”
While Indigenous and environmental opponents have so far come up short in their push to shutter Dakota Access, the completion of the Army Corps review could reignite litigation over the pipeline's operations.
Among the issues raised by the tribes, they alleged that the contractor commissioned by the Army Corps to carry out the review process violates conflict-of-interest laws and is essentially “an agent of DAPL.” The tribes noted that the company, a multinational consultancy called Environmental Resources Management, is a member of the country’s leading oil lobby, the American Petroleum Institute, which filed briefs in district court arguing against vacating Dakota Access' permit. They also noted that staff from a company subsidiary testified in favor of permitting the pipeline before South Dakota regulators in 2015.
Environmental Resources Management did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment.
The letter also includes a series of requests. Among them, Standing Rock insisted on full transparency to documents and data informing the environmental review process and asked that the Army Corps end its contract with Environmental Resources Management. The tribes also called for the Department of the Interior to be included as a participating party, arguing that the Army Corps “has consistently demonstrated an institutional lack of sensitivity” to tribal concerns.
Jan Hasselman, an attorney for the Standing Rock tribe, said that the early stages of the review process reflect little change of priorities from former President Donald Trump’s administration to President Joe Biden’s administration.
“It's a profound sense of disappointment and betrayal that an administration that came in with the loftiest rhetoric about environmental justice and Indigenous sovereignty has so badly mishandled this issue,” he said.
Dakota Access has been a flashpoint in debates over the country's energy and environmental future since protests over its construction near the Standing Rock reservation drew global attention in 2016 and 2017.
Operators of the pipeline reported last month that work to double the capacity of Dakota Access is halfway finished, allowing the pipeline to pump 750,000 barrels of oil per day. The rest of the expansion, to 1.1 million barrels a day, is expected to be complete by the end of this year.
Readers can reach reporter Adam Willis, a Report for America corps member, at firstname.lastname@example.org.