Thousands of tribal citizens and their allies took part in Native Nations Rise in Washington, D.C, on March 10, 2017. Photo by Indianz.Com / More on Flickr

President Trump put wealthy firm first in approving Dakota Access Pipeline

President Donald Trump admitted he put industry first when he approved the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline over the objections of Indian Country.

During a speech in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Wednesday, Trump said it was unfair to keep the wealthy backers of the project in limbo. So that's why he approved the final portion in North Dakota before a study of its impacts on treaty rights, sacred sites and water resources was completed.

"Nobody thought any politician would have the guts to approve that final leg and I just closed my eyes and said 'Do It,'" Trump said on the banks of the Ohio River as he mimed the signing of papers to approve the $3.8 billion crude oil pipeline.

"Think of it [from] a company standpoint -- they build this massive pipeline, going for miles, then they have to hook it up, a little section, and they're stuck," Trump said.

"I said, 'That's not fair,'" Trump added.

Trump's comments, coming on a week where he is promoting American infrastructure, are his most detailed to date about the pipeline. His administration approved it in early February after he signed an executive order seeking an "expedited" review of the final portion just four days after taking office in January.

Indianz.Com on SoundCloud: President Donald Trump on Dakota Access Pipeline: 'I just closed my eyes and said, Do It'

But like many of the president's explanations, this one could prove troublesome in the courts. They play into allegations advanced by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe that Trump put little thought, or analysis, into the approval of a pipeline through their treaty territory.

Trump, in fact, expressed surprise about the reaction to his decision. Even though thousands of tribal citizens marched to the White House a month later in protest of the pipeline, he insisted no one has complained.

"Everybody's happy, the sun is still shining, the water is clean," Trump said in Cincinnati. "But you know when I approved it, I thought I'd take a lot of heat and I took none. Actually, none."

The "closed my eyes" justification stands in deep contrast to the defense being mounted in court. Attorneys from the Department of Justice have submitted thousands of pages of documents as part of the tribes' #NoDAPL lawsuit.

The goal is to convince a federal judge that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers made the right call when it approved an easement for the pipeline without consulting the tribes. The decision enabled the wealthy backers to complete the 1,172-mile project, which began officially shipping oil on June 1 -- a development Trump boasted about in his speech.

But Standing Rock and Cheyenne River leaders are asking Judge James Boasberg to set aside the easement, which was issued after an environmental assessment was completed last July. They are calling for the completion of a more stringent environmental impact statement in order to address their concerns about the project.

Indianz.Com on YouTube: President Donald Trump on Dakota Access Pipeline

Two days before Trump took office, the Department of the Army ordered such a review. But it was canceled by the new administration a month later, again without consulting the affected tribes.

Among the concerns is the potential for spills and leaks from the pipeline. The portion at issue crosses federally-managed land at Lake Oahe, a reservoir along the Missouri River, which provides drinking water for millions of Americans, not just the tribes.

Dakota Access has already leaked twice in North Dakota and once in South Dakota. Although the spills were relatively minor, tribal leaders say they indicate that further study is needed at the final portion.

But the backers of the pipeline insist the potential for spills is low. In documents they submitted to the Army Corps, they assigned a risk ranking of of "2" out of 10 for spills along the Missouri River and a "3" out of 10 for spills at Lake Oahe specifically.

The so-called "Spill Model Discussion" reports, however, contain redactions in what appear to be key portions. The documents are also subject to a protective order that Judge Boasberg issued on Wednesday.

So while the parties and their attorneys can see the full documents, the public -- including ordinary tribal citizens -- cannot. The tribes themselves aren't allowed to share the secret information either.

The public, for example, cannot see computer-simulated graphs that show where the spill risk at Lake Oahe was deemed to be the highest. The information appears to be significant because Dakota Access used it to determine where to place valves at this crucial portion of the pipeline -- the one Trump described as merely being a "little section."

By moving the valves, the report claims Dakota Access reduced the risk of damage to "high consequence areas" and the environment by "approximately" 45 percent. High consequence areas, according to federal regulations, are considered places where people live and where drinking water sources exist.

According to a FAQ prepared by the Army Corps during the Obama administration, Dakota Access at one point considered placing the pipeline near Bismarck, the most populous city in North Dakota. But that path was rejected due to concerns about threats to "high consequence areas," the document states.

The route was instead moved to the one near Standing Rock, home to about 8,500 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The population in Bismarck, in comparison, is about 72,000.

The Lake Oahe spill model document also assumes it would take Dakota Access "6 hours" to bring response equipment and personnel to contain a potential spill. Standing Rock citizens contend it would take only 5 minutes for oil to reach their water intake system. Cheyenne River citizens say oil would arrive downstream to their community in about 3 hours.

The spill documents -- there are 5 total -- were filed in court on Wednesday. In addition to the ones for Lake Oahe and the Missouri River, Dakota Access submitted reports for two portions along the Illinois River in Illinois and another portion along the Kaskaskia River in Illinois.

Federal Register Notices:
Notice of Termination of the Intent To Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement in Connection With Dakota Access, LLC's Request for an Easement To Cross Lake Oahe, North Dakota (February 17, 2017)
Notice of Intent To Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement in Connection With Dakota Access, LLC's Request for an Easement To Cross Lake Oahe, North Dakota (January 18, 2017)

Dakota Access Pipeline Approval Documents:
Department of Justice Notice | Department of the Army Approval Memorandum | Notice of Termination of EIS for Dakota Access Pipeline | Easement Letter to Congressional Leadership

White House Documents:
Presidential Memorandum Regarding Construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (January 24, 2017)
Presidential Memorandum Regarding Construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline (January 24, 2017)
Executive Order Expediting Environmental Reviews and Approvals For High Priority Infrastructure Projects (January 24, 2017)
Presidential Memorandum Regarding Construction of American Pipelines (January 24, 2017)
Presidential Memorandum Streamlining Permitting and Reducing Regulatory Burdens for Domestic Manufacturing (January 24, 2017)
Press Release: President Trump Takes Action to Expedite Priority Energy and Infrastructure Projects (January 24, 2017)

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