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Dakota Access asks judge to end 'political interference'

WASHINGTON - Developers of the Dakota Access Pipeline asked a judge Tuesday, Nov. 15, to end "political interference" by the Obama administration and prevent further construction delays as opponents rallied around the country in solidarity with t...

WASHINGTON – Developers of the Dakota Access Pipeline asked a judge Tuesday, Nov. 15, to end “political interference” by the Obama administration and prevent further construction delays as opponents rallied around the country in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s fight against the four-state pipeline.

Dakota Access argued in court papers filed in U.S. District Court that the Army Corps of Engineers has already authorized construction under Lake Oahe, a dammed section of the Missouri River.

The company argues that an easement from the Corps is not necessary because the agency authorized the river crossing on July 25 when it issued a mitigated finding of no significant impact for the $3.8 billion project.

Dakota Access, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, said delays due to the government’s review process have already cost the company $450 million and will cost millions more for each additional month of delay as contractual delivery obligations go unmet.

“Dakota Access Pipeline has been granted every permit, approval, certificate, and right-of-way needed for the pipeline’s construction,” said Kelcy Warren, CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, in a statement. “It is time for the courts to end this political interference and remove whatever legal cloud that may exist over the right-of-way beneath federal land at Lake Oahe.”

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The Corps maintains that an easement is necessary before construction can begin. On Monday, the agency invited the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to engage in discussions about the pipeline’s river crossing related to whether additional conditions placed on the easement could enhance protection of Lake Oahe. The Corps did not give a timeline for the review process.

Meanwhile, the costs associated with the state’s response to the protests that have been active since mid-August are now estimated to be $10.9 million, said Cecily Fong, spokeswoman for the Department of Emergency Services.

Additional funding will be sought from the North Dakota Emergency Commission, which has authorized borrowing up to $10 million from the Bank of North Dakota to cover law enforcement and other costs related to the protests, Fong said.

North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple on Tuesday called on the Corps to complete its additional analysis of the pipeline within days, not weeks or months.

“A decision on the project’s easement is long overdue,” Dalrymple said in a statement. “Further delays simply prolong the risks to public safety, prolong the hardships endured by area residents and increase costs incurred by the state of North Dakota and Morton County.”

On Tuesday, officers in riot gear responded to additional protests in North Dakota, including a demonstration west of Mandan involving 300 to 400 people that temporarily blocked BNSF Railway tracks.

Thousands of pipeline opponents gathered in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., on Tuesday for a national day of action to call on the Corps to reject the Dakota Access Pipeline before Donald Trump becomes president.

Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II thanked supporters Tuesday and said in a statement that Dakota Access created the urgency “by their own reckless choice” to construct the pipeline before receiving the necessary approvals.

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“Dakota Access is so desperate to get this project in the ground that it is now suing the federal government on the novel theory that it doesn’t need an easement to cross federal lands,” Archambault said. “They are wrong and the lawsuit will not succeed. We are looking forward to discussing the easement with the Administration and explaining why it must be denied.”

Pipeline opponents have mixed reactions to the announcement by the Corps for additional discussion. While spokespeople for the pipeline resistance camp said Tuesday it is a step in the right direction, they reiterated that they want a full environmental impact statement for the project.

“We cannot negotiate the safety of the water, and we will not negotiate,” said LaDonna Bravebull Allard, Sacred Stone Camp spokeswoman. “We will stand, and continue to stand until every pipe is out of the ground.  As our leaders come together, they need to understand that the people's voice comes first."

The Corps said it plans to provide a “framing paper” to facilitate discussion on the pipeline and potential requirements to further reduce the risk of a spill or rupture and improve detection or response time.

Brigham McCown, a former administrator for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, said Dakota Access has been thoroughly studied at the state and federal level. He added the pipeline exceeds current federal regulations, such as being installed at a deeper level than is required, with stronger pipe and more advanced monitoring and valve systems.

“I’m not so sure there’s a lot more they can do,” McCown said. “Unfortunately, this is one of these issues that has been caught up in a political argument. It’s not really a safety argument.”

Dakota Access is asking U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg to expedite his review of the counterclaim filed Tuesday, citing important deadlines that are looming for the pipeline. The company has long-term transportation contracts with nine shippers to have the pipeline completed, tested, and in service by Jan. 1, 2017, and those shippers can terminate the contracts if the conditions are unmet, Dakota Access said in court papers.

On Sept. 9, Boasberg ruled against the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe when he denied the tribe’s request for an injunction that would have halted pipeline construction.

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Just after his ruling, the Army Corps, Department of Justice and the Department of Interior announced that the Army would not authorize construction on Corps land until further review.

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