The Standing Rock Sioux tribe has called Donald Trump’s decision to push forward the controversial Dakota Access pipeline “utterly alarming”, and warned the president that rushing through the project would break federal law.
On Tuesday, Trump signed an executive order instructing the army corps of engineers to “review and approve in an expedited manner” the Dakota Access project, an 1,100-mile pipeline that would take oil from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota to Illinois.
The army corps of engineers is undertaking an environmental impact statement over concerns that the pipeline could contaminate the Standing Rock Sioux’s drinking water at Lake Oahe in North Dakota. The pipeline would cross the Missouri river, the tribe’s main source of drinking water, and pass close to the tribal reservation.
Trump’s order asks the army to consider “whether to withdraw” the environmental review, despite the fact it is already under way, with a public comment period that closes on 20 February.
In a letter sent to Trump, David Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock tribe, urged the president to not bypass the environmental analysis.
“This change in course in arbitrary and without justification,” he wrote. “The law requires that changes in agency positions be backed by new circumstances or new evidence, not simply by the president’s whim.
“The problem with the Dakota Access pipeline is not that it involves development, but rather that it was deliberately and precariously placed without proper consultation with tribal governments.
“This memo takes further action to disregard tribal interests and the impacts of yesterday’s memorandums are not limited to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.
“This disregard for tribal diplomatic relations and the potential for national repercussions is utterly alarming.”
Archambault adds that he has sought a meeting with Trump but has had no response. More than 150 native American tribes have united in uproar against the Dakota Access pipeline, with thousands gathering at a protest camp near the North Dakota construction site to decry the potential harm to drinking water and cultural heritage sites.
In December, following months of pressure from protestors, Barack Obama’s administration decided to block construction of the pipeline on federal land until an environmental assessment was completed. Opponents of the pipeline also launched a federal lawsuit to halt the $3.7bn project, which is largely complete aside from the contentious water crossing.
Trump’s administration has vowed to push through the completion of the Dakota Access project, as well as the Keystone oil pipeline, in order to create what it claims to be thousands of jobs and spark a domestic “energy revolution”.
Trump’s executive orders also contain a demand that American steel and other materials be used in construction of the pipelines.
The memos were applauded by the American Petroleum Institute. Jack Gerard, its chief executive, said Trump’s orders would “benefit American consumers and workers, while protecting the environment”.