On December 4, we all celebrated when the US Army Corp of Engineers announced they would not grant the easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline to pass under the Missouri River at Lake Oahe. Instead, they would prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), a long and public permitting process that would explore alternate routes. This should have been done years ago.
Trump can overturn the Army Corp’s easement decision on the afternoon of January 20. There is nothing binding about it. The EIS, however, is a bigger beast. It’s a big legal process that would be somewhat insulated from Trump, at least for a while. However, and here’s the thing, the US Army Corp has not started the EIS process. If it doesn’t start it by noon on January 20, when Trump takes office, it is unlikely it ever will.
An EIS involves these steps, which I’m taking directly from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):
Summary of the EIS Process
An agency [in this case, the US Army Corp of Engineers] publishes a Notice of Intent in the Federal Register. The Notice of Intent informs the public of the upcoming environmental analysis and describes how the public can become involved in the EIS preparation.This Notice of Intent starts the scoping process, which is the period in which the federal agency and the public collaborate to define the range of issues and possible alternatives to be addressed in the EIS.
A draft EIS [which is a large document describing various alternatives and their risks] is published for public review and comment for a minimum of 45 days.Upon close of the comment period, agencies consider all substantive comments and, if necessary, conduct further analyses.
A final EIS is then published, which provides responses to substantive comments. Publication of the final EIS begins the minimum 30-day “wait period,” in which agencies are generally required to wait 30 days before making a final decision on a proposed action.EPA publishes a Notice of Availability in the Federal Register, announcing the availability of both draft and final EISs to the public.
The EIS process ends with the issuance of the Record of Decision (ROD). The ROD: explains the agency’s decision, describes the alternatives the agency considered, and discusses the agency’s plans for mitigation and monitoring, if necessary.
I’m familiar with this process. I have to do it all the time, for my job with the State of California, even when we are planning good things like habitat restoration projects to improve the environment. It’s crazy that an EIS was never required years ago for the
Dakota Access Pipeline, a multi-state project that involves putting a large oil pipeline under hundreds of rivers and streams. And all this during a period when pipelines on that same river system were breaking and spilling oil into those rivers (e.g. the Yellowstone River spills in 2011 and 2015). But the Dakota Access process violated a number of laws: no EIS, no tribal consultation, blatant disregard of environmental justice requirements, etc. See this post for a full list of their “trail of broken laws”.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and their legal team are all over this, watching closely, and encouraging the public to demand Step 1 before Obama leaves office: That the US Army Corp publish, in the Federal Register, their Notice of Intent to prepare an EIS.
There are four days to go. The Tribe might want to publicly call for a return of protesters now to put pressure on the Army Corp. Here’s what you can do; it takes 1 minute:
Call US Army Corp at (202-761-0001) and ask for the “Dakota Access Comment Mailbox” where you can leave a message regarding the Dakota Access pipeline. The direct line to the voice mailbox is 202-761-8700. Say something like, “I am [name] from [place]. I urge the Army Corp to file their Notice of Intent to prepare the Environmental Impact Statement for the Dakota Access Pipeline.”