Dakota Access Pipeline stands to gain with Donald Trump in the White House

A #NoDAPL water protection effort in North Dakota was met by another big law enforcement response on November 2, 2016. Photo by Rob Wilson [GoFundMe]

The battle over the Dakota Access Pipeline is far from over but the controversial project stands to gain greatly if Republican president-elect Donald Trump follows through with his campaign promises.

Within his first 100 days in office, Trump has vowed to lift "roadblocks" to large-scale infrastructure projects like the $3.8 billion pipeline that Indian Country opposes. The fight is taking place on the ground in North Dakota but also in the courts and before key federal agencies whose leaders will soon be named by the new president.

As the transition moves forward, a major figure in the effort is already one of the pipeline's biggest champions. Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-North Dakota), who easily defeated a Dakota Access opponent at the polls on Tuesday, is Trump's main energy adviser and he will play a role in setting the agenda when it comes to infrastructure projects. He's also expressed great interest in helping pick members of the incoming administration.

"Thank you North Dakota for your strong expression of support for Donald J. Trump and me," Cramer said on Facebook early Wednesday morning. "We will restore America's prominence in the world."

The #NoDAPL vandals have struck our nation's capital with this disgusting defacement of North Dakota's pillar at the WWII Memorial. It is time for tribal leaders to denounce these lawless acts.

Posted by Congressman Kevin Cramer on Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-North Dakota) on Facebook: '#NoDAPL Vandals' at World War II Memorial in Washington D.C.

Trump also had support from the top executive at Energy Transfer Partners, the firm that's building the pipeline. With a $103,000 donation, CEO Kelcy Warren was one of the top five individual contributors to the Republican's campaign, according to the Capital Research Center.

But even before the polls closed on the historic election, Energy Transfer Partners continued to express confidence in the project. According to a statement from the firm, construction crews have already completed work on both sides of Lake Oahe in North Dakota and are planning to move in drilling equipment in order to connect two important pieces of the pipeline.

The work is moving forward even though the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has yet to approve an easement for work at Lake Oahe. Although the Obama administration continues to review the matter, a Trump in the White House could easily change course come January 20.

"Dakota Access previously received a permit from the Army Corps with respect the tunneling activities under Lake Oahe, and Dakota Access has all other regulatory approvals and land rights to complete the crossing of the Missouri River at Lake Oahe," Energy Transfer Partners said in its statement.

Statement Dave Archambault II, Chairman Standing Rock Sioux Tribe “Energy Transfer Partners, the company financing...

Posted by Standing Rock Sioux Tribe on Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Standing Rock Sioux Tribe on Facebook: 'Corrupt and Unconscionable' Construction on DAPL

The firm's stance drew a rebuke from Chairman Dave Archambault II of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The pipeline comes within a half-mile of his people's reservation and poses threats to sacred sites, burial grounds and water resources.

"Starting construction without a legal easement would be corrupt and unconscionable. Those behind DAPL have ignored all requests to voluntarily slow things down, including a current administration's federal directive to do so," Archambault said in a statement on Tuesday.

If the Army Corps were to reject the easement or somehow call for a change in the route of the pipeline, as President Barack Obama suggested in an interview with NowThis last week, the decision is likely to lead to a lawsuit from backers of the project. With the answer coming so late in the year, a Trump administration would play a significant role in determining how the matter moves forward.

There is precedent for a Republican president resolving disputes in favor of the energy industry. When George W. Bush came on board in January 2001, his administration quickly opened the doors to projects that had been put on hold or derailed during the Clinton era, including a gold mine on sacred Quechan Nation land in California.

"One does not sell the Earth the people walk upon" Film by Dr0ne2bwild Photography & Video Edited by Josué Rivas Fotographer #indigenousrising #nodapl

Posted by Indigenous Rising Media on Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Indigenous Rising on Facebook: Video by Dr0ne2bwild Photography & Video [GoFundMe]

The controversy contributed to the defeat of one of Bush's federal court nominees and led to a North American Free Trade Agreement dispute that was resolved in favor of the United States. But the federal government also took steps to protect the sacred area again after President Obama entered the White House in January 2009, indicating how a change in leadership can impact Indian Country's interests.

Separate from the easement for Dakota Access, the Department of Justice, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior have already initiated government-to-government talks on large infrastructure projects. The last in-person meeting takes place in South Dakota on November 17 and a final teleconference is scheduled for November 21.

A President Trump could change course by ignoring the results of the effort. During his 100 days speech, he also promised to cancel every "unconstitutional" executive action, memorandum and order issued by Obama.

Trump failed to offer any Indian Country specifics during his campaign but one of his newest advisers doesn't think tribes should be worried. Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Oklahoma), a member of the Cherokee Nation, is chair of the president-elect's Native American Coalition.

“Donald Trump may not understand all the Indian issues," Mullin said at a Navajo Republican rally in Shiprock, New Mexico, last Friday. "How could he? He's not from here."

"But he's smart enough to surround himself with people to go get the answers," Mullin continued. "So I guarantee you, what we have with Donald Trump is someone with an open ear that's willing to listen to wise counsel."

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