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Obama Administration Dakota Pipeline Intervention 'Unprecedented,' API, Union Officials Say

As a coalition of Native American and environmental activists staged protests in Washington, DC, and around the nation Tuesday, energy industry and construction trades officials pushed back against the Obama administration's eleventh-hour interference in the Dakota Access oil pipeline project now under construction.

American Petroleum Institute (API) CEO Jack Gerard and North American Building Trades Unions President Sean McGarvey said the intervention last Friday (see Shale DailySept. 9) by three federal agencies changes “the rules in the middle of the road."

Those "unprecedented" actions came immediately after a federal district judge had ruled in favor the ongoing, nearly 1,200-mile pipeline project cutting through North/South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois, and they carry a "chilling effect" on future U.S. infrastructure projects that transcends the energy industry, Girard and McGarvey said during a conference call Tuesday.

Gerard called the move by the Departments of Justice and Interior, along with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), a "dangerous precedent" for the nation's future infrastructure projects. McGarvey, whose union has many idled pipeline construction workers, called for a return to the “rule of law.”

Political observers said such a fast coordinated response from totally separate parts of the administration could only have come directly from the White House.

"New and expanded energy infrastructure is necessary to get supplies of oil and natural gas to market to fulfill the energy demands of our nation," said Girard, citing a recent study showing new U.S. energy infrastructure development could mean up to $1.1 trillion in capital investment and up to 1.5 million jobs. "Moving forward, it is critical that the rule of law is followed as the need for new infrastructure grows."

McGarvey said his union's research so far cannot find a similar situation in which an approved infrastructure project was stopped. "These federal agencies have not provided any legal justification for halting pipeline development that is already permitted and working," he said.

McGarvey drew a sharp distinction between the ill-fated TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline and Dakota Access. In that regard, he said the union "respected but did not agree" with the Obama administration's decision to reject Keystone XL. In the case of Dakota Access, "all the procedures and policies were followed, permits were issued, and then due to some demonstrations and violence in and around the project, somehow the administration made the decision to overrule a federal judge who had said the proper processes were followed."

From the union's standpoint, McGarvey said his members are looking for answers from the Obama administration related to the decision to suspend the project and also an investigation of their allegations that opponents of the project have physically harmed workers and equipment.

Meanwhile, opponents pushed their protest activities to a reported 100 events spread across 35 states and Washington, DC, on Tuesday, and the Standing Rock Sioux Nation reiterated that it will continue to fight the project through the courts and other means. They were critical of a statement from the pipeline project sponsor Energy Transfer Partners (ETP).

ETP CEO Kelcy Warren said in an internal memo made public that ETP "intends to meet with officials in Washington to understand [the government's] position and reiterate our commitment to bring the Dakota Access Pipeline into operation." Warren also says the company has met with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe nine times over the course of the permit application process.    "We -- like all Americans -- value and respect cultural diversity and the significant role that Native American culture plays in our nation’s history and its future and hope to be able to strengthen our relationship with the Native American communities as we move forward with this project."

Opponents of the pipeline were staging protests at different points across the nation Tuesday. In Washington DC, it was difficult to tell protesters against the pipeline, from the crowds protesting the opening of presidential candidate Donald Trump’s new downtown hotel, or those protesting a new government ban on the herb, Kratom, which is said to relieve pain.

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