Well that was fast. According to Reuters, the Army Corps of Engineers has filed court papers stating that the agency plans to grant an easement that will enable Energy Transfer Partners to complete the Dakota Access Pipeline by drilling under the Lake Oahe reservoir. This action appears to be pursuant to an executive order signed late last month by President Trump instructing the Corps to “review and approve in an expedited manner, to the extent permitted by law” such an easement.
Environmental activists believe that preventing the pipeline’s completion will help forestall man-made global warming by keeping oil in the ground. In addition, the local Sioux opposed it due to fears that it could leak and contaminate their drinking and irrigation water supplies. Nevertheless, the Corps completed and issued an environmental assessment (EA) with a “Finding of No Significant Impact” with regard to the construction of the pipeline beneath Lake Oahe. This displeased folks in the Obama administration who pressured the Corps into finding a way to stall the project. In December, acting Assistant Director of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy obliged by issuing a memorandum that voided the Corps’ assessment. In addition, Darcy ordered that full-blown environmental impact assessment be conducted, a process that could take as long as two years more to complete.
That was then; this is now. Consider the fact that the regulators’ environmental assessment last July had concluded that the granting the easement under Lake Oahe was appropriate. Nevertheless, at the direction of Obama administration officials, the Corps was ordered to revisit and revise its decisions which it duly did. Now the Trump administration has ordered to Corps to reconsider its reconsideration and revise its conclusions again which it is evidently doing.
One way to look at what is happening is that a highly politicized regulatory decision by the Obama administration is being corrected by the Trump administration. Those of us concerned about the rule of law on which activists, oilmen, and all other citizens hope to rely, might see the situation differently: The pipeline was stalled at the whim of one president and is evidently being green-lighted now at the whim of another. Whimsical regulation is bad for everybody.