Indianz.Com > News > Fate of Dakota Access Pipeline lies in Biden’s hands
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe: Chairwoman Janet Alkire on DAPL’s Flawed Environmental Impact Statement
Fate of Dakota Access Pipeline lies in Biden’s hands
Tuesday, February 22, 2022

The wealthy backers of the Dakota Access Pipeline have been turned away by the nation’s highest court, leaving the long-running dispute over its illegal operation firmly in the hands of the Biden administration.

In an order on Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition in Dakota Access v. Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The action confirms that the final portion of the $3.8 billion oil pipeline has been operating without a federal permit for almost five years now.

Just as significantly, the development means that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can move forward with a long-delayed environmental review of the disputed segment. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has already been asking allies to weigh in on a controversy that has now stretched through three presidential administrations.

“First, the fight is not over, the fight for our water, for the unborn and for Mother Earth,” Chairwoman Janet Alkire said in a video released by the tribe earlier this month.

“DAPL is an ongoing trespass against the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe,” Alkire continued, asserting financial damages from the operation of the illegal infrastructure. “Every day that the pipeline operates and transfers oil, trespass damages continually accrue.”

“Each day is a risk of more than a half-million barrels of oil poisoning our most precious water source, the Missouri River,” Alkire said, referring to the fact that the final portion of the pipeline crosses through the treaty-protected body of water.

Despite the review going forward at the federal level, the tribe is no longer working cooperatively with the Army Corps. In the video, Alkire said the contractor selected by the agency to prepare the environmental impact statement, also known as an EIS, belongs to an energy industry group that opposed Indian Country’s push for the review.

“As we are expected to uphold the law, we want the Army Corps to do the same,” Alkire said in the tribe’s video.

Sioux Nation Letter to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers #NoDAPL

Leaders of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and the Oglala Sioux Tribe have also joined Standing Rock in pressing the Biden administration to end the contract with the firm, calling the current process “irredeemable” and “fatally flawed.”

The September 2021 letter from the three tribes was addressed to Jaime Pinkham, who at the time was serving as the “acting” Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. In that leadership role, Pinkham, who is a citizen of the Nez Perce Tribe, was overseeing the DAPL review process.

Since then, a permanent, U.S. Senate confirmed Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works has joined the Biden administration. The person now serving in the position is Michael Connor, a citizen of the Pueblo of Taos who has acknowledged the Army Corps’ troubled past in Indian Country.

“There has been a tension in the way the Corps has historically gone about the rest of its portfolio, permitting activities that impact the interests of tribes and tribal treaty rights,” Connor told the National Congress of American Indians during the organization’s winter meeting last Monday.

“We are going to revamp and modernize and update the tribal consultation policy that the Corps has,” Connor promised tribal leaders who attended the virtual conference.

Indianz.Com Video: Assistant Secretary of the Army Michael Connor #NCAIECWS2022

Connor served as Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior in the final years of the Barack Obama administration. At the time, his agency at was taking steps to address the controversy that had arisen over Dakota Access and its impact on tribes and tribal treaty rights.

In December 2016, which was the full final month of the Obama era, Interior issued a legal opinion that addressed treaty rights and the pipeline. The president himself that month also ordered the Army Corps to conduct a more thorough analysis of the final portion at Standing Rock.

The Army Corps, however, failed to get the environmental review off the ground in time for the process to gain traction before a new president came on board. Once in office, Republican Donald Trump, who only served one term in the White House, quickly canceled the study and expedited the approval of the disputed segment at Standing Rock.

With approval in hand only two weeks after Trump’s arrival in the nation’s capital, Energy Transfer Partners, a privately-held corporation that owns one of the largest network of energy assets, was able to complete the final portion of the pipeline. The pipeline became operational in early June 2017, a development later cheered by the former president.

Shut Down DAPL
Carrying an eagle staff, Lakota youth run along the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to call for the shutdown of the Dakota Access Pipeline on April 1, 2021. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

The federal courts, however, have had a lot to say about Trump’s handling of the pipeline. Since June of 2017, they have repeatedly confirmed that the Army Corps approved the segment at Standing Rock without adequately examining the impacts on tribal rights.

But the legal victories, including one that came just six days into Joe Biden’s presidency, have not resulted in the closure of Dakota Access. Although a federal judge at one point ordered the shutdown, the wealthy backers were able to convince the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to put a hold on such a step.

Energy Transfer Partners subsequently asked the Supreme Court to hear the case, filing a portion of the petition in Dakota Access v. Standing Rock Sioux Tribe under seal to prevent the public from looking at it. The document remains hidden from view on

And despite Assistant Secretary Connor’s acknowledgment of the historic failings of the Army Corps, he didn’t address the DAPL controversy during his speech at NCAI’s executive council winter session. When presented with a carefully-crafted question that touched on some of the issues at play, he said he hadn’t been briefed on those matters since taking office almost three months ago.

Amid the new leadership in D.C., there hasn’t been any news on the release of the environmental impact statement for the final segment of the pipeline. A project update indicated the document would be “projected for September 2022.”

But in responding to the petition presented to the Supreme Court, the Biden administration gave a different answer. Government attorneys said the EIS is anticipated in November 2022, or two years after the president — with the help of Native voters — won election to the highest office in the land.

“The litigation concerning the pipeline is over, but the fight continues,” attorney Jan Hasselman of Earthjustice said in a news release on Tuesday.

“We call on the administration to close the pipeline until a full safety and environmental review is complete,” said Hasselman, who represents the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. “DAPL never should have been authorized in the first place, and this administration is failing to address the persistent illegality of this pipeline.”

D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Decision
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe v. Dakota Access (January 26, 2021)

Federal Register Notice
Notice of Intent To Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for an Easement to Cross Under Lake Oahe, North Dakota for a Fuel-Carrying Pipeline Right-Of-Way for a Portion of the Dakota Access Pipeline (September 10, 2020)

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