A pair of agency-directed memos signed Tuesday by President Donald Trump could force completion of the controversial Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota as well as breathe new life into the Canadian-based Keystone XL pipeline.

Trump’s memo did not grant a drilling easement for the $3.8 billion Dakota Access project to cross U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land on the Missouri River/Lake Oahe but directs the agency to expedite review with the idea that prior reviews already satisfy federal law.

Congressman Kevin Cramer said he believes the memo will force the agency to rescind the decision it made last week to begin a full-blown environmental impact statement on the crossing and issue an easement in short order.

Cramer said he made contact Tuesday with federal law enforcement agencies, including the CIA and the U.S. Marshal service, in anticipation of pushback from hundreds of pipeline protesters camped near the water crossing just north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation when construction resumes.

“I think we can expect some form of (police) relief. I believe the greater the force, the more of a deterrent to bad behavior, rather than have unnecessary violence,” Cramer said. 

“All the work’s been done for this easement, and I think it will be a very short matter of time, days or possibly weeks, and the easement will be issued,” Cramer said. 

The memo’s reference to “prior reviews” refers to the corps’ initial environmental assessment, when the agency approved the pipeline crossing in July, stopping short of issuing an actual easement.

The easement has been withheld because of objections from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which is suing the corps in federal court for failure to properly consult on a project that could contaminate the reservation’s water and impact sacred historic sites.

“It’s a big day,” Cramer said. “But this will only be over when the easement is granted and the pipe is connected.”

One pipeline expert said he wishes the memo were a direct order to approve the easement. However, Brigham McCown, former DOT senior executive and administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration under President George W. Bush, said it clearly signals Trump’s intention to move the pipeline forward.

McCown said an EIS will likely never be started for the Dakota Access Pipeline.

“I suspect somebody’s going to have to say, `We’ve reaffirmed the initial environmental assessment, we made the right decision, here are the permits, do your thing,’” McCown said.

When that happens, the federal court suit between the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the corps will be moot, he said.

The corps referred any questions to the White House.

McCown said he hopes the administration moves quickly to provide the easement from fear further delay will only escalate matters at protest camps.

“I’m concerned about the people and the flooding,” he said.

The potential for a flood where hundreds of Dakota Access protesters remain encamped in the Cannonball River floodplain is a concern for Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D. Heitkamp said she hopes Trump’s memo ends long delays for the pipeline, amid concerns for the safety of everyone from law enforcement, to nearby residents, to protesters. She said the Trump administration needs to reimburse the state for protest enforcement costs.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., an advocate for the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline, applauded Trump’s memo to the Secretaries of State, Army and Interior inviting TransCanada to reapply for a presidential permit to cross the U.S.-Canadian border with its tar-sand oil pipeline project. Obama refused a border permit.

“Getting the XL pipeline back on track signals that our nation will begin to build the kind of energy infrastructure we need now and into the future," Hoeven said.

The pipeline route clips a tiny bit of far southwestern North Dakota, but does have uptake capacity for 100,000 barrels of Bakken crude.

McCown said he thinks the current low price of oil will be a factor in whether TransCanada takes Trump up on his offer.

Others also reacted positively, including Gov. Doug Burgum, the state Democratic party and the North Dakota Petroleum Council.

“After months of politically driven and costly delays by the Obama administration, President Trump has moved this important infrastructure project one step closer to completion,” Burgum said.

“This pipeline underwent an exhaustive review process and was twice upheld by federal courts. We ask that the Trump administration provide federal law enforcement resources to assist in upholding the law and protecting people and property rights as the project moves toward completion under Lake Oahe," he said.

House minority leader Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, said it’s time to resolve the pipeline issue.

“All parties should heed the calls of (Tribal Chairman David Archambault II), the Standing Rock Sioux council and our governor for the remaining protesters to leave the camp before the potentially dangerous flood seasons begins,” Mock said.

Climate change activists, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Democrat and presidential contender, said he’ll fight Trump all the way.

“I will do everything I can to stop these pipelines and protect our planet for future generations," Sanders said in a statement.

(Reach Lauren Donovan at 701-220-5511 or lauren@westriv.com.)

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