President Donald Trump will likely overturn a permit denial that prohibited the construction of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), which was the focus of months of massive protests by Native American and garnered global attention.
Press Secretary Sean Spicer did not provide specifics about Mr Trump’s plans regarding continuing construction of the DAPL and the Keystone XL Pipeline, but he gave first hints that the new administration would move forward with the project.
Mr Trump launched his first working week as President of the United States carrying out his plans of dismantling many of Barack Obama’s signature policies – such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and portions of the Affordable Care Act. Pushing through the Dakota Access Pipeline would further Mr Trump’s promise to work against his predecessor.
“I’m not going to get in front of the President’s executive actions,” Mr Spicer said, “but I will tell you that areas like the Dakota and Keystone pipeline areas that we can increase jobs, increase economic grown, and tap into America’s energy supply. That’s something that he’s been very clear about.”
He added that Mr Trump is “very very keen in making sure we maximise use of our natural resources to America’s benefit”.
Hundreds of thousands of people gathered near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation to protest the pipeline amid fears that it would contaminate the local water supply and destroy sacred sites in the area. Braving sub-freezing temperatures at times, demonstrators (who call themselves as “water protectors”) held their ground in the area. Private security teams and area law enforcement mobilised against the activists with dogs, water cannons, tear gas.
In December, the US Army Corps of Engineers denied a permit to the Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners to complete the final leg of the $3.8bn pipeline. The project was planned to stretch across North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois.
“Although we have had continuing discussion and exchanges of new information with the Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access, it’s clear that there’s more work to do,” Jo-Ellen Darcy, the Army’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Works, said. “The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing.”
Standing Rock Sioux tribal chairman David Archambault II quickly celebrated the decision when the announcement was made.
“We wholeheartedly support the decision of the administration and commend with the utmost gratitude the courage it took on the part of President Obama, the Army Corps, the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior to take steps to correct the course of history and to do the right thing,” he said.
However, North Dakota congressman Kevin Cramer said Mr Trump could easily overturn the Environmental Impact Study (EIS), ordered by Mr Obama, that prompted the denial of permit.
“With the Dakota Access Pipeline, I would expect … that the EIS will be rescinded,” he told a Fox radio affiliate in Fargo. “I expect [the EIS] will be rescinded quickly, that the easement [to drill under Lake Oahe] will be ordered and issued, you know, maybe as early as Monday. And I would expect that Dakota Access could begin finishing that line within a week. That’s my hope, and that’s my expectation.”
Mr Trump previously owned between $500,000 and $1m in shares of Energy Transfer Partners in 2015, according to campaign disclosures. After selling off much of his shares, he still held a less than $50,000 stake in the company last summer.
The Trump campaign had denied that Mr Trump’s interest in Dakota Access Pipeline project had anything “to do with his personal investments and everything to do with promoting policies that benefit all Americans.
“Those making such a claim are only attempting to distract from the fact that President-elect Trump has put forth serious policy proposals he plans to set in motion on Day One.”
Protests are still underway in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, but the Standing Rock Tribal Council has issued an evacuation order for people still camped at the construction site, Indian Country Today reported.
“The main objective of the people of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe was to stop the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which has been achieved to a degree,” said Cannon Ball district representative Cody Two Bears. “All the individuals at all the camps in and around Cannon Ball need to leave.”
The decision to evacuate was made following recent clashes between water protectors and law enforcement. Since 16 January, about 35 protesters have been arrested for carrying out demonstrations and actions at the site of the pipeline.
Mr Trump’s first days as President have sparked the concerns of human rights advocates worldwide. On Saturday, nearly five million people took to the streets in countries around the globe to protest the new administration. The Women’s March in the US drew 2.9 participants, the largest mass protest in American history.
But two days later, Mr Trump signed an executive order to reinstate the so-called Mexico City Policy. The rule, revoked by Barack Obama in 2009, forces NGOs to agree to “neither perform nor actively promote abortion as a method of family planning in other nations” as a prerequisite for federal funds.
The ACLU decried the action an “assault on women’s health”.