US tribe asks court to reverse Trump administration on pipeline

Flags flap in the wind on the main thoroughfare of Oceti Sakowin Camp on the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on December 3, 2016 outside Cannon Ball, North Dakota (AFP Photo/JIM WATSON)

Chicago (AFP) - The Native American tribe at the center of protests against the Dakota Access pipeline in the northern United States, on Tuesday asked a federal court to reverse the Trump administration's decision to let the project proceed.

The Standing Rock Sioux said in a court filing that the federal government, which under President Donald Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, had committed to a full environmental impact review of the oil pipeline route, had abandoned that promise in a way that was "arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law."

Federal authorities reversed course, because of a directive from Trump to "'review and approve' pipeline permits on an expedited basis," the tribe said in its motion, asking the court to vacate the final permits issued to Dakota Access.

During the first week of his presidency, Trump signed two executive orders to revive two controversial pipeline projects that were hobbled by the Obama administration: Dakota Access and Keystone XL.

The US Army Corps of Engineers -- having approval authority over the pipeline's route under the Missouri River in North Dakota — last week issued the final permit necessary, and construction on Dakota Access resumed almost immediately.

Energy Transfer Partners, the developer of the 1,172-mile (1,886-kilometer) oil pipeline, said it expected to begin operation in less than three months.

The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the latest court filing. But it has claimed that the project is safe and that there are already other pipelines operating under the disputed waterway.

The Standing Rock Sioux argue that the pipeline's route threatens its drinking water supply and nearby sites the tribe considers sacred.

"The Trump Administration is circumventing the law: wholly disregarding the treaty rights of the Standing Rock Sioux and ignoring the legally required environmental review," the tribe's attorney Jan Hasselman said in a statement.

Last week, the neighboring Cheyenne River Sioux tribe, whose reservation is near the waterway as well, also filed a court motion to stop the pipeline.

"The pipeline will desecrate the waters upon which Cheyenne River Sioux tribal members rely for their most important religious practices," the tribe said.