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Dakota Access Becoming National Native American Cause

As the encampment of protesters against the Dakota Access oil pipeline construction in south-central North Dakota has swelled with people, the major energy infrastructure project has been transformed into a national lobbying effort by Native American tribes.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's allegations that the tribe was not properly consulted when the $3.8 billion project, which would cross four states, was permitted by federal and state regulators earlier this year has expanded, as State of Washington tribes on Tuesday called on the Obama administration to "overhaul a failed system of tribal consultation."

Washington's Native American leaders presented a five-point plan for tribal land protections as part of a second "listening session" held by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Separately, another Sioux tribe leader reportedly has requested that the Obama administration order a full environmental impact statement (EIS) for the project's entire 1,172 miles, which project backers contend is illegal, since only 3% of the pipeline crosses federal lands.

Public workshop sessions have been held with tribes since September when the Justice, Army and Interior Departments said "important issues were raised" by tribal nations and their members regarding the Dakota Access pipeline specifically and pipeline-related decision-making generally. Federal agencies acknowledged the preliminary authorization was work done by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Industry and labor groups have been unrelenting in criticizing the federal government's belated intervention for an infrastructure project that they contend has been fully vetted by the courts and permitted by state and federal regulators (see Shale DailySept. 13). Last week more than 20 organizations urged federal agencies to "abide by the well-established process and the law," and allow the nearly completed project to progress (see Shale DailyOct. 24).

The focus of the Dakota Access quagmire is now placed on social/political/environmental concerns raised by the Native Americans, while the backers of the Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) project to carry Bakken Shale crude oil contend the eleventh-hour interference will have a chilling effect on critical future energy infrastructure projects.

"Tribal nations are forced time and time again to defend that which is sacred to us," said Tim Ballew II, chairman of the Lummi Indian Business Council in Washington state. "This is the result of a failed process of consultation and flawed policies." Meanwhile, in North Dakota last weekend, Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II continued to allege that up to 127 peaceful protesters had been arrested by local authorities.

ETP on Tuesday said the protest encampment has spread to a second site on private ranch land owned by the company. It said the protesters, who are trespassing, would be asked to leave or would removed if they refuse to disperse.

Last week, ETP posted a $100,000 reward for information related to an alleged arson attack that caused $2 million in damage to a construction site in Iowa (see Shale DailyOct. 20). Dakota Access and contractor Precision Pipeline are offering the reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible. Three bulldozers and an excavator belonging to the contractor were reportedly damaged earlier in the month at a site near Reasnor, IA, about 40 miles east of Des Moines, according to the Jasper County Sheriff's Office, whose investigators said the fire looked like it was set intentionally.

Archambault countered that thousands of "water protectors" have joined his tribe against the pipeline project, while he accuses North Dakota law enforcement agencies and Gov. Jack Dalrymple of "failing to ensure their safety and rights."

The Washington state tribe's five-part proposal to BIA calls for the Army Corps to conduct "region-wide" environmental impact statements and repeal some of its existing procedures regarding the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). It also calls on President Obama to strengthen sacred site protections through an executive order, for Congress to pass legislation updating NHPA and the National Environmental Protection Act, and for changes to the 2011 fast-track permitting process to ensure "proper and meaningful" consultation with tribes.

Meanwhile, the National Infrastructure Alliance, a group of construction unions, has written to President Obama urging him to direct the Army Corps to allow the Dakota Access project be completed aside from the longer-term tribal consultation issues. "This unfortunate situation demands your immediate attention," wrote Executive Director Raymond Poupore.

The Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now (MAIN), which also supports the project, said the opposition's call for a full and belated EIS is "something the federal government has no lawful authority to give. We are a federalist nation where states and federal governments share power, and when it comes to major infrastructure projects there are clear delineations of that power."

MAIN's Craig Stevens said the federal government has conducted an appropriate comprehensive environmental assessment and provided approval for the 3% of land within the federal jurisdiction. The only part of the project still pending is for the Army Corps to reconsider its previous approval covering 1,000 feet crossing under Lake Oahe, a dammed portion of the Missouri River in North Dakota.

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