Just a week ago environmental activists protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline hoped that a rejection of the project by the federal government would signal a deepened U.S. commitment to slowing the pace of oil and gas drilling. The election of Donald Trump likely erased those hopes while also reviving the fight over the Keystone XL pipeline rejected by President Obama last year.
Trump has not announced a public position on the pipeline, but everything else we know about Trump suggests that he would support continuing the project. Trump has made scrapping environmental regulations a top priority and North Dakota GOP Congressman Kevin Cramer, a key Trump energy advisor, has said Trump will take particular aim at the Clean Water Act. That is one of the key rules that gives the federal government jurisdiction over the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Beyond policy, Trump owns stock in the company building the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, as well as another company that will own a share of the pipeline once it is completed. He also received more than $100,000 in campaign contributions from the company's CEO.
At the same time, the pipeline nears completion with the final stage of construction beginning in two weeks. The Obama administration had requested Energy Transfer Partners halt production while it reassesses the permits but the company has ignored that request. The White House has also suggested the company reroute the pipeline but the company has shown little interest. Finally, the administration could revoke permits in the area near the Standing Rock Sioux tribe altogether, but that step would be easy for a future Trump administration to undo.
Making matters worse for environmental activists, they now also face the possibility of the Trump White House reversing Obama's decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. Trump has listed reviving that project, which would have carried crude oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast, as a priority for his first 100 days. TransCanada, the company behind Keystone, said it planned to work with a Trump administration shortly following the election.
A combined group of environmental and Native American activists have been protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline for months arguing that it contributes to dangerous man-made climate change and treads on the rights of indigenous groups. Local and state authorities have responded harshly, sending dogs and using pepper spray.