Dakota Access, a $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile oil pipeline that spans four states, would funnel hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil daily from western North Dakota to an existing pipeline in Illinois. An early proposal called for the line to pass by the overwhelmingly white capital city, Bismarck, but was rerouted near Native American water supplies and cultural sites.
For months, thousands of demonstrators - led by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe - have camped in the project's revised path. They've withstood regular clashes with an increasingly militarized police force, which has deployed water cannons in sub-zero temperatures, used attack dogs and pepper spray, and arrested protesters en masse.
Construction was delayed and the Obama Administration ordered an expanded environmental review of the project. But six days after that evaluation began, President Trump called for the review and approval of Dakota Access and Keystone XL, another contentious pipeline that was halted after years of protests, to be expedited.
"The Trump administration may have announced termination of the [Environmental Impact Statement] but that will not go unchallenged," Standing Rock Sioux tribal chairman David Archambault said last week. "This administration has expressed utter and complete disregard for not only our treaty and water rights, but the environment as a whole."
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Energy Transfer Partners maintains the line is safe, but opponents fear that a spill would not only contaminate the local water supply - risks the tribe argues were never adequately assessed - but could lead to a wider disaster.
That's because the pipeline also crosses the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest subterranean water tables in the world, spanning eight states and providing water to millions of Midwesterners. And, as with any new fossil fuel infrastructure, such as the Keystone XL pipeline, which Trump has also greenlighted, climate activists worry about the long-term greenhouse gas implications of a pipeline with a decades-long lifespan.
May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, said that efforts to resist the project would continue despite the easement.
"Trump thinks he's getting what he wants, but the people who've been emboldened by the worldwide fight against the Dakota Access pipeline won't quietly back away," Boeve said in a press statement. "Indigenous leaders, landowners and climate activists are ready to challenge this decision in the courts and in the streets - as we have each time the fossil fuel industry steamrolls over human rights for their own profits."
In 2015, Trump owned between $500,000 and $1 million of Energy Transfer Partners stock, and between $15,000 and $50,000 last year, according to Trump's federal disclosure forms from the past two years. In November, Trump spokesman Hope Hicks said that he'd sold his share in the company months earlier.
Ties between pipeline and president run both ways: Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren gave more than $100,000 to Trump's campaign, and he donated millions to former Texas Governor Rick Perry's presidential campaign. Trump has nominated Perry to head the U.S. Department of Energy, an appointment that the Senate may vote on this week.
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In December, more than 2,000 veterans converged at Standing Rock, to act as human shields and protect the demonstrators' First Amendment rights. Now, Veterans Stand, a group formed in the wake of the last trip, is planning a second 'deployment.' They've raised more than $200,000 through GoFundMe over the past two weeks, to be used for supplies, operations and transporting veterans to and from the camp.
Anthony Diggs, communications director for Veterans Stand and a former Marine, said there's an advance team already on site in North Dakota, with more vets on the way or soon to join.
"We're here to make sure the water protectors are supported, well-equipped and protected," Diggs said. "Everybody at the camp is still here in peaceful protest and prayer ceremony. But the law enforcement has become increasingly more aggressive, increasingly more militarized. There are people who are being arrested and brutalized for non-violently demonstrating."
Demonstrators will take to the streets of Washington, D.C. on March 10 for the Native Nations March. Pipeline opponents also look to catalyze a divestment movement, a tactic increasingly embraced by environmentalists. On Tuesday, Seattle cut ties with Wells Fargo - which had managed about $3 billion annually for the city - over the $120 million the company has loaned to Energy Transfer Partners for the pipeline.
As long as protesters remain peaceful, they will continue to be a potent force, said Diggs.
"What we are dealing with is Big Oil in our government essentially choosing the opportunity for a few people to profit over the sustainability of our environment and the health of literally millions and millions of people," Diggs said. "Their whole philosophy for dealing with this situation - and anyone that stands in the way of them and their profits - is based on things like intimidation, instigation and violence. But that's the power of people protest - they don't know what to do when we refuse to give up nonviolence as our main approach."
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