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Former interior secretary Jewell says Army is ‘reneging’ on its commitments on Dakota Access pipeline

Then-Interior Secretary Sally Jewell looks into a canyon at Gemini Bridges near Moab, Utah. (Rick Bowmer/AP)

Former interior secretary Sally Jewell said in an interview Wednesday that the Army Corps of Engineers was “reneging” on its commitment to other federal agencies and tribal leaders to conduct a thorough environmental review of the Dakota Access pipeline before granting an easement to the project’s sponsor.

On Tuesday, Army officials said in court filings that they would grant the final federal permit that the pipeline’s sponsor, Energy Transfer Partners, needs to complete the 1,170-mile project. Jewell, who has refrained from commenting on the new administration even as it has clashed with members of her former department, said she felt compelled to speak out because she says it is now violating its legal obligations.

Trump administration to approve final permit for Dakota Access pipeline

Jewell said the Corps failed to adequately consult with leaders of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, whose reservation abuts the proposed route, early on in the process. The formal Environmental Impact Statement, which the agency indicated in December it would conduct, would have provided the tribe with an opportunity to air its concerns and allowed other agencies to weigh in on the decision.

“So the decision to not do any of that is reneging on a commitment they made [in December] and I think it’s fair to say that I’m profoundly disappointed with the Corps’ reversal of its decision to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement and consider alternative routes,” she said. “This is a clear reversal of a commitment on the part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on something they gave thoughtful consideration to when they decided to do an environmental review.”

She added that when approving projects in the United States, the Corps is required to abide by the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act. “That has not been done in this case.”

Officials from the Army, which granted the easement Wednesday, did not comment on Jewell’s remarks. In documents filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the agency said it was withdrawing its notice of intent to conduct an environmental review in response to the “presidential memorandum” President Trump issued Jan. 24 instructing the Army to expedite review of Energy Transfer Partners’ easement application.

Craig Stevens, a spokesman for the MAIN business coalition, said in a statement that Army Corps officials had indicated more than once in public statements that they backed the granting of the easement to Energy Transfer Partners.

In a Dec. 3 memo, Stevens noted, Army Corps Col. John Henderson wrote to his superiors and concluded that the agency “intends to execute and issue the easement to Dakota Access.”

“This is not ambiguous,” Stevens said.