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Opponents Celebrate Decision To Halt Construction Of Dakota Access Pipeline


Let's look at what comes next for the Dakota Access Pipeline. Yesterday's decision by the Army Corps of Engineers has brought construction to a halt for now. The Corps says it's going to consider alternative routes for the pipeline which is nearly completed. NPR's Nathan Rott is in North Dakota where protesters continue to have a lot of questions and concerns.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: First there were excited whispers, then cheers...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The easement has been denied.


ROTT: ...And then fireworks...


ROTT: ...Above the prairie hills and river plains at Camp Oceti Sakowin in North Dakota.


ROTT: This camp has become a month's long home to thousands who have come to oppose the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline at a key section not far from the camp where it would cross the Missouri River. But even with the news that construction on that section will not be approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers...


ROTT: ...Expansion, winterization and construction at the camp continued...


ROTT: ...As veterans, environmentalists and Native Americans dug into the ice and snow for the long winter ahead.

JENNIFER MARTEL: My job isn't done.

ROTT: Jennifer Martel is with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe which sits just across the frozen Cannonball River to the south of this encampment. And while she says the decision was a victory, something to be excited about, Martel says she's cautious, too.

What are you cautious about?

MARTEL: Cautious of the government, you know? They've broke many treaties with us, and so...

ROTT: So government announcements and press releases...

MARTEL: Words and pieces of paper. They mean something to them but not to us because they've done a lot to our people.

ROTT: This is something you hear a lot around camp. There's been a trail of broken promises to the Sioux and other Native American tribes that are hard to forget. Even more relevant, though - the new presidential administration. Chase Iron Eyes is also with the Standing Rock Sioux.

CHASE IRON EYES: We can't quit the fight here because we need to know what happens when Donald Trump takes office.

ROTT: At a press conference earlier today, Trump's transition team said that they would support the construction of the more than 1,100-mile pipeline and that they would review the situation in full when they're in the White House. That's in line with other Republican lawmakers who have called the Army Corps' decision everything from ridiculous to a massive overreach of executive power.

LUKE DANIELSON: I don't think it's overreach to try to find a way to resolve a situation with this much conflict potential.

ROTT: This is Luke Danielson, the head of Sustainable Strategies Group, a nonprofit that researches conflicts over natural resource development. He says that given the number of protesters at the camp, a number that swelled over the weekend with thousands of veterans, and the violent conflicts that had already occurred, it made sense to try to deescalate the situation further.

As to what the Trump administration could do to reverse that decision, Danielson says it would be difficult because a move to stop the new evaluation process of checking alternate routes for the pipeline would have to involve all three branches of government.

DANIELSON: So I think the courts are pretty likely to ensure that that process of re-evaluation goes forward.


ROTT: Back at the camp, new arrivals keep pouring in even as the head of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe tells supporters it's time to go home. Tom Goldtooth of the Environmental Indigenous Network warms in the cab of this truck as people mill about in the cold.

TOM GOLDTOOTH: I kind of suspect we're here for the long haul.

ROTT: If so, he says, they'll be ready for it. Nathan Rott, NPR News, Cannonball, N.D. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nathan Rott is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where he focuses on environment issues and the American West.
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