By Phil McKenna
Aug. 30, 2016
Senior officials at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and two other federal agencies raised serious environmental and safety objections to the North Dakota section of the controversial Dakota Access oil pipeline, the same objections being voiced in a large protest by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe that has so far succeeded in halting construction.
But those concerns were dismissed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which relied on an environmental assessment prepared by the pipeline's developer, Dakota Access LLC, when it approved the project in July, according to public documents.
After the company rerouted the pipeline to cross the Missouri River just a half-mile upstream of the reservation, the tribe complained that the Army Corps did not consider threats to its water supply and cultural heritage.
The EPA, the Department of the Interior and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation echoed those concerns in public comments on the Army Corps' draft environmental assessment. Citing risks to water supplies, inadequate emergency preparedness, potential impacts to the Standing Rock reservation and insufficient environmental justice analysis, the agencies urged the Army Corps to issue a revised draft of their environmental assessment.
"Crossings of the Missouri River have the potential to affect the primary source of drinking water for much of North Dakota, South Dakota, and Tribal nations," Philip Strobel, National Environmental Policy Act regional compliance director for the EPA, wrote in a March 11 letter to the Army Corps.
The current route of the pipeline is 10 miles upstream of Fort Yates, the tribal headquarters of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and the county seat. The Standing Rock Sioux rely on the Missouri River for drinking water, irrigation and fish.
Federal law requires federal agencies to take into account the effect a proposed project will have on historic property. The Army Corps' assessment, however lacked adequate consultation with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and focused on a limited number of water crossings rather than on the pipeline's entire expanse, according to letters ACHP officials wrote to the Army Corps.