Good News: victory at Standing Rock
We'll start, as we always do where possible, with some Good News. And if you have been following the news at all, you knew this would be here.
In what must be seen as a major victory for the Standing Rock Lakota and the power of public protest, on December 4, the Army Corps of Engineers stated that it is declining to issue the easement that would have allowed the Dakota Access Pipeline, the DAPL, to tunnel under the Missouri River. The Corps of Engineers instead will conduct additional environmental reviews to consider alternate routes for, and the spill risks of, the pipeline, a process that could take a year to complete. This puts an at least temporary halt to a project that threatened both the integrity of sacred Native grounds and the tribe's supply of drinking water.
Significantly, the Corps did not actually deny the easement for the project, but said additional review is needed. That's important because it means the pipeline company can't file an appeal because the project was not formally rejected: There's nothing for them to appeal.
Opponents of the pipeline, however, fear that the victory could be short-lived, particularly since according to TheRump mouthpiece Jason Miller, the Great Orange One supports construction of the pipeline. Even so, Miller wouldn't say whether TheRump would try to reverse the Corps' decision, saying they'll review it when TheRump gets into office.
The thing is, however, that once in office, TheRump could try to cancel the review and greenlight the project, but that may not be as easy as might he think.
Energy experts say that TheRump's administration will have to either complete the full review decided on by the Corps or find a way to remove the requirement for the environmental impact assessment altogether. Doing that, however, would be highly unusual and would undoubtedly provoke a lawsuit which could tie up the project in court for years.
What all this means is that while the Corps' decision does not kill the pipeline, it will very likely delay it for at least several months. Which was likely a good part of the reason why Dave Archambault, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux, asked the thousands of protesters who have come to Standing Rock to go home for the winter rather than try to stay over the harsh North Dakota winter, which hit the Oceti Sakowin camp with a blizzard the same day as the Corps' announcement.
He also made the same appeal to the cops, asking everyone to "return home and enjoy this winter with their families" - because, it now seems clear, nothing is going to happen for a while.
However, at least some folks are declining to leave, fearing that departing will "just let air out of the movement," in the words of one. And indeed, experience shows that it is easier to sustain a movement, even if at a lower level, than it is to re-start it after it has been turned off.
The folks staying also note that the fight is not over, which is especially true in light of the fact that Energy Transfer Partners, the DAPL's developers, have their own suit in federal court in Washington, DC, insisting that the court should order the Army Corps of Engineers to grant the easements the company desires. Any decision in that suit is unlikely to come before TheRump is in office and I know of no particular reason to expect the decision, when it comes, to be a bad one, but it still hangs over the issue like a dark cloud.
There is one other aspect of this that has not gotten nearly as much attention as the protests and the construction itself: the finances, which could potentially - could potentially - become a real problem for Energy Transfer Partners.
According to the organizers of the original Spirit Camp, if the project is not completed by January 1, a majority of the stakeholders with contracts to ship oil through the pipeline will be able to renegotiate or cancel their contracts. I think it unlikely that a significant number will look to cancel, but some may look to renegotiate, and any movement around that could make investors wary of putting more money into something that may not ultimately be a profitable as they thought it would be.
Add to that the fact that last month, a Norwegian bank called DNB, which is providing loans covering close to 10% of the cost of the project, said it "looks with worry at how the situation around the pipeline" has developed and that "if concerns raised by Native American tribes ... are not addressed," the bank will "[re]consider its further involvement in the financing of the project."
So the fight is not over and the victory on December 4 could be short-lived, but it is still a victory and it is still Good News.