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What's Next For The Dakota Pipeline?


The big question in the battle over a pipeline is, what now? The Army Corps of Engineers announced Sunday it would deny the permit needed for the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross under the Missouri River. The company building the pipeline says it's not going to stop. The protesters are staying put, even as winter storms are bearing down on them. Amy Sisk of the Inside Energy public media collaboration joins us from Bismarck, N.D., via Skype. Amy, good morning.

AMY SISK, BYLINE: Hi there. Glad to be here.

GREENE: Well, thanks for coming on the program. So the - the Corps says that this pipeline cannot go where the company wanted it to go, saying it needs to be rerouted. Could that happen? What does that process entail?

SISK: So pipeline construction is more than 90 percent complete along the four states that this project crosses. And the pipe has already been laid right up to the Missouri River in North Dakota. It was supposed to cross underneath it. So considering alternate routes here, that's going to be part of a much more thorough environmental review, which the Corps is launching and will oversee. Now, North Dakota's Public Service Commission would also have to grant approval for a new route in addition to the Corps of Engineers. The pipeline company would essentially need to apply for a brand-new state permits. And here's the chair of that public service commission - commission, Julie Fedorchak.

JULIE FEDORCHAK: And then that would all be reviewed for the environmental impact, the culture impacts. We have public hearings, and they'd have to get all new easements from landowners for the new land. And we would go through the same thorough, open, transparent review that we did the first time.

SISK: Now, she tells me that that process could take as little as six months, but it also could it take maybe even longer than a year.

GREENE: Wow, so really almost starting much of the process over again if they have to reroute this. Well, I mean, one big question - when Donald Trump is president - I mean, he has seemed much more favorable to this pipeline. Could he reverse the Army Corps' decision, making it unnecessary for the company to go through all that?

SISK: Yes, that's the big question right now. A spokesperson for the president-elect said yesterday that Donald Trump is supportive of the pipeline, and he'll be reviewing the Army Corps of Engineers' decision when he takes office. Now, the oil industry is very hopeful that Trump will reverse the decision, but legal experts say it's not so easy. You know, with the Corps in making its announcement, it's now pretty committed to reviewing the project. And though there could be legal challenges, the courts are likely to ensure that the review process is carried out.

GREENE: And what - what about the protest situation there? I know hundreds of law enforcement officers, the North Dakota National Guard have responded to the protests over the pipeline. I mean, is - is that deployment going to change now that we have this - this pause, it seems like?

SISK: Yeah, so I went down to the law enforcement staging area, which is north of the protest camps, yesterday. And they told me that thousands of people flocked to the camps after the Corps of Engineers' announcement on Sunday. So law enforcement isn't planning on going anywhere. Here's Major General Al Dohrmann of the North Dakota National Guard.


AL DOHRMANN: There is a big influx of folks down there. I would be willing to guess it's about the tenth-largest city in North Dakota right now. So with that, we've got to make sure we have the right law enforcement solution here to maintain the peace within Morton County.

SISK: Law enforcement in recent days did reach an agreement with protesters to back away from a highway bridge near the camps that served as a point of contention recently between protesters and police.

GREENE: OK, and of course the protesters saying they're going to stick it out as well into the winter. That's Amy Sisk of Inside Energy. That's a public media collaboration focusing on America's energy issues. Amy, thanks.

SISK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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