The Dakota Access Pipeline should be approved and President-elect Donald Trump will review the decision to deny a permit for the project once it takes office, a spokesman for Trump’s transition team said.
After weeks of protests from Native Americans and environmental activists, the Army Corps of Engineers announced Sunday that it was denying Energy Transfer Partners LP approval to build a section of the project under Lake Oahe in North Dakota, and said the agency would begin a lengthy environmental review to determine whether the pipeline route should be changed.
The pipeline “is something we support construction of, and we will review the situation when we are in the White House to make the appropriate determination at that time,” Jason Miller, the transition spokesman, told reporters Monday.
Trump has pledged to overhaul the nation’s energy policy in a way that favors energy companies, and a reversal of the pipeline decision would fulfill that pledge. He has also said he will find a way to reverse the Obama administration’s rejection of TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline.
The Trump administration can probably overturn the Corps’ decision in Dakota and issue the required easement soon after taking power, Elvira Scotto, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets, said in a note Sunday night.
Congress, too, may get involved. Asked Monday if lawmakers will challenge the Army Corps decision, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said, “I think we’ll get a new administration, we’ll get new eyes, and there’s always a possibility.”
Protests against the crude-oil pipeline have resulted in hundreds of arrests and drawn support from celebrities. But Trump has pledged quicker approval of pipeline projects, saying its key to unleashing more oil and natural gas production in the U.S.
The standoff over the Dakota Access pipeline is emblematic of a broader effort by environmentalists to stall those pipelines, which they say hurt the nation’s progress in reducing its reliance on fossil fuels. Protesters who have camped for months in North Dakota had been told the area would be closed on Monday and they would have to move to designated protest zones.
Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners LP called the move “a purely political action” in a statement Sunday, adding that they are fully committed to bringing the project to completion.
“This is nothing new from this administration, since over the last four months, the administration has demonstrated by its action and inaction that it intended to delay a decision in this matter until President Obama is out of office,” the companies said in the statement.
But the setback may be temporary.
“The Obama administration’s refusal to issue an easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline violates the rule of law and fails to resolve the issue,” North Dakota Senator John Hoeven, a Republican, said in a statement. “Instead, it passes the decision off to the next administration, which has already indicated it will approve the easement, and in the meantime perpetuates a difficult situation for North Dakotans.”
Hoeven called for the protesters to immediately vacate the site.
Dakota Access has been central to the intensifying debate over the need for new pipelines in the U.S. It has become a rallying point for the anti-fossil fuel movement and has drawn intense opposition from Native Americans who say it’ll damage culturally significant sites.
“We wholeheartedly support the decision of the administration,” Dave Archambault II, tribal chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, said in a statement on Sunday. “In a system that has continuously been stacked against us from every angle, it took tremendous courage.”
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The pipeline could help cut costs for drillers in North Dakota’s Bakken shale region that have turned to more costly rail shipments when existing pipes filled up. Dakota Access, with a capacity of about 470,000 barrels a day, would ship about half of the current Bakken crude production and enable producers to access Midwest and Gulf Coast markets.
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The permit would be for the final section of the pipeline, which spans four states. The project was originally slated to be operational at the end of this year.
“The thoughtful approach established by the Army today ensures that there will be an in-depth evaluation of alternative routes for the pipeline and a closer look at potential impacts,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in an e-mail.
Energy Transfer owns the project with Phillips 66 and Sunoco Logistics. Marathon Petroleum Corp. and Enbridge Energy Partners LP announced a venture in August that would also take a minority stake in the pipeline.