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Congressional Democrats Sympathetic to Dakota Access Pipe Opponents

In a Capitol Hill forum sponsored by a handful of Congressional Democrats on Thursday, lawmakers and Native American tribal leaders called for a halt to the $3.8 billion, nearly 1,200-mile Dakota Access oil pipeline now under construction in four states.

Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II led a packed house of Native American tribal leaders in urging Congress to halt the project, whose backers argue is a necessary U.S. energy infrastructure project that has met all of the needed environmental and cultural heritage safeguards as part of state and federal processes that began two years ago.

Separately, the Standing Rock Sioux gained the support of what its leaders called 1,200 archaeologists and museums across the nation, all of which are calling for the federal government to stop the alleged desecration of Standing Rock sacred sites.

"The federal government has failed in its trust responsibility to the Standing Rock Sioux," said Archambault in announcing the national support. He called the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) "a federal trustee responsible for upholding our treaty rights," and alleged that the Corps failed to hold "meaningful consultation" with the tribe before approving the water crossing pipeline construction. USACE is currently re-evaluating its past approval.

The Native American pleas gained a sympathetic ear from a half-dozen Democratic Congressional members who attended the informal gathering. They agreed with Archambault that the Sioux' concerns were ignored for the most part by USACE and state officials in a permitting process that authorized a unit of Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners to begin construction earlier this year.

In response to a question from Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Archambault acknowledged that the part of the pipeline route nearest the reservation is located in a natural gas pipeline right-of-way that has existed since the 1980s, and further, the project met "minimal" required clearance (500 feet) of the reservation.

Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) said he supported the stand taken by the Native American tribes and he admired the tribes "dignity and moral clarity" in standing up to "Big Oil," which he described as having "way too much power and influence."

Huffman made it clear he thinks Congress' and the federal government's job is to reverse the Dakota Access decision, and make sure "the government gets this thing right."

Industry analysts have noted that USACE could decide to reopen the environmental review of the lake crossing, and other federal reviews could be revisited under the Clean Water Act, the Rivers/Harbors Act, or the National Historic Preservation Act. Any of those courses would likely delay the USACE easement being issued (see Daily GPI, Sept. 19).

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