After months of protest through icy conditions and several clashes with police, Native Americans gathered at the construction site of the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota celebrated a victory Sunday. The Army Corps of Engineers, responsible for issuing permits for the project, announced that it won’t issue the approval necessary for the pipeline to continue construction on its current route.
For the thousands of Native American demonstrators, this turn of events is a relief, especially as harsh winter conditions sweep through the protest camps. But they’re not all convinced that it’s safe to pack up and go home just yet.
“It’s a blessing that the Army Corps denied the easement, but we’re on a wait-to-see situation to see what the DAPL does next,” Tom Goldtooth, a protester from the Navajo and Dakota tribes, told Fusion. “We have President Donald Trump coming in and we know what he represents, so we may have a long battle.”
While this marks a significant turning point in the battle over the pipeline, it’s far from the end of the story. Here are the three possible paths the project could go down in the coming months:
Energy Transfer Partners challenges the decision in court to continue construction
Energy Transfer Partners said in a statement Sunday that it plans to build the pipeline on the original route despite the Army Corps of Engineers’ announcement.
“As stated all along, ETP and SXL are fully committed to ensuring that this vital project is brought to completion and fully expect to complete construction of the pipeline without any additional rerouting in and around Lake Oahe. Nothing this Administration has done today changes that in any way,” the statement reads.
This sets up the situation for a legal challenge to the federal agency’s decision. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court set a precedent allowing federal court challenges to the Army Corps of Engineers’ decisions when they relate to water quality.
In its decision about the pipeline, the Army said it was denying an easement for Energy Transfer Partners to construct the pipeline under the Missouri River. It said it’ll be preparing an environmental impact statement – something activists and other federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, have been calling for.
The pipeline is built along another route
The Army Corps of Engineers could also suggest an alternative to the current plan, a suggestion originally floated by President Barack Obama last month. Whatever path it takes could still cross the Missouri River and could affect other towns along the way and is likely to encounter more resistance.
Previously, the company had considered constructing the pipeline north of Bismarck, North Dakota. The decision to build instead on a path that the Standing Rock Sioux say crosses sacred ground and could endanger their water supply seems, to some activists, to be a result of “environmental racism,” which they say tramples their rights while respecting those of non-Native citizens.
The tests the new route will have to pass will also be more stringent, because the Army says it’ll conduct an environmental impact statement with full community consultation, a more rigorous and time-consuming process than the environmental assessment that was conducted for Energy Transfer Partners’ current plan.
The pipeline is built along its current route under Trump
When he takes office Jan. 20, Trump could issue an executive order pushing through the pipeline, regardless of what federal agencies say. The president-elect has said he supports the Dakota Access Pipeline’s construction and has been a vocal supporter of another pipeline, the Keystone XL, which was rejected by Obama in November last year.
Trump transition team communications director Jason Miller told reporters this morning that the incoming administration will “support the construction” of the pipeline and said the situation will be under review when Trump is in the White House.