The Obama administration blocked the Dakota Access pipeline on Sunday, at least temporarily, but supporters said Monday they expect the pipeline’s backers to reapply for the same route under President-elect Donald Trump’s administration.
The pipeline needed approval from the Army Corps of Engineers to cross under the Missouri River, upstream from the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota, where protests have gathered to complain of the risk of an oil spill into the tribe’s water supply.
The Army rejected the permit on Sunday, citing a “need to explore alternate routes,” which would need to go under a thorough environmental review. The Obama administration had previously approved the project in July. In September, it ordered the pipeline’s backing company, Energy Transfer Partners, to halt construction while officials reconsidered the decision.
Supporters said on Monday they expect the company to reapply for permission to use the same route under Trump’s administration.
“The new administration could simply reinstate the previous permit and say, ‘The Obama administration changed its mind and we’re changing our mind,’” said Brigham McCown, who was administrator of the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration under President George W. Bush, in an interview with Morning Consult. McCown is an adviser to the Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now, which supports the pipeline.
Trump spokesman Jason Miller told The Wall Street Journal on Monday that the pipeline is “something that we support construction of and we’ll review the full situation when we’re in the White House and make the appropriate determination at that time.”
A briefing report from Trump’s transition team on Thursday reportedly said he supports the pipeline. Trump’s July 2015 financial disclosure report with the Federal Election Commission said he had between $500,000 and $1 million invested in Energy Transfer Partners, but a spokeswoman told The Washington Post in November that he had sold most of his shares.
Energy Transfer Partners released a statement on Sunday blasting the decision to reject the easement, saying the company expects “to complete construction of the pipeline without any additional rerouting.”
If the company were to restart the permit application process for a different route, it would have to go through a more thorough environmental impact statement, which could take more than a year, Daniel Simmons, vice president for policy at the Institute for Energy Research, a conservative nonprofit, told Morning Consult. Because the Army Corps of Engineers did not originally make the pipeline undergo a full environmental impact statement, it should be able to skip that longer process by reapplying for the same route under the next administration, he said.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy denied critics’ claim that the administration opposes the pipeline for political reasons, like an opposition to fossil fuels, rather than for environmental safety concerns.
“I don’t think this is a policy signal,” she said at a Christian Science Monitor event Monday. “I think this is a signal that issues have been raised that are a great concern for many people, and it’s appropriate that we use the current system to make sure that we’re looking at all environmental effects.”
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated when Trump’s transition team released a communications briefing regarding the pipeline.