What Happens Next at Standing Rock?

December 5th 2016

The announcement on Sunday that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would pursue an alternate route for the Dakota Access Pipeline was hailed as a major victory for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and the thousands of protestors who had blocked access to the location. 

But the fight to protect water access at the North Dakota reservation is likely far from over.

The two corporate partners behind the DAPL, Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners, will likely appeal the decision or sue the Obama administration to send it to federal court. They also don't anticipate any changes in the project, in a statement released Sunday night they claimed to "fully expect to complete construction of the pipeline without any additional rerouting."

There's also the possibility that the incoming Trump administration will simply overturn the decision. Trump has already come out in favor of the pipeline project, and was also revealed to be a shareholder of Energy Transfer Partners. He invested between $500,000-$1 million during 2015, but he apparently sold the stock off over the summer.

There's one legal way for the Obama administration to ensure that the pipeline is never built through Standing Rock, but it's a risky move that could hinder future protection of federal land. President Barack Obama could use the Antiquities Act of 1906 to designate the land around the contested area as a national monument. This would ensure permanent protection for the area, and force Energy Transfer Partners to find another route.

But this method carries the possibility that Congress could rewrite or gut the Antiquities Act. Despite bipartisan use (only three presidents, all Republican, haven't designated a single national monument), Republicans have criticized Obama for overusing the act, and might be inclined to make it more difficult to designate future monuments.

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