Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Files First Legal Challenge over Dakota Access Pipeline Easement

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A Native American tribe has filed the first legal challenge to block the nearly finished Dakota Access Pipeline from crossing under a Missouri River reservoir in North Dakota, just hours after the federal government gave the green light for construction to proceed.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Wednesday granted an easement to the developer of the four-state crude oil project, allowing it to install the final section of the 1,172-mile pipeline. Part of this 1.25-mile section will run under Lake Oahe just upstream of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reservation.

“The safety of those located on Corps-managed land remains our top priority, in addition to preventing contaminants from entering the waterway,” said U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Omaha District Commander Col. John Henderson in a statement. “We appreciate the proactive efforts of the tribes to help clean the protest site ahead of potential flooding along the river, typical during the runoff season.”

While the Army Corps says this area is federally owned land, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe cites an 1851 treaty that it says designates the land to Native American tribes. The tribe, which also claims its members were never meaningfully consulted before construction began, sued in July to block the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline. That lawsuit is still pending, and the Army Corps, as well as the company behind the pipeline, have argued in court papers that they followed a standard review process.

The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, which has joined the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s lawsuit against the pipeline, filed a motion at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Thursday morning seeking a temporary restraining order “to halt construction and drilling” under and on either side of the land surrounding Lake Oahe. The tribe argues that the Dakota Access Pipeline “will desecrate the waters upon which Cheyenne River Sioux tribal members rely for their most important religious practices and therefore substantially burden the free exercise of their religion,” according to court documents obtained by ABC News.

The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, which is a member of the Great Sioux Nation, is requesting that the judge immediately issue a temporary restraining order to stop construction, with a hearing to be held at the court’s earliest convenience.

The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe filed a separate motion seeking a preliminary injunction directing the Army Corps to withdraw the easement issued to the pipeline company Wednesday. The tribe alleges that the easement granted is “entirely unlawful” under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, according to the court documents.

"The government has granted the easement and Dakota Access has begun to drill. This Court cannot wait until the harm begins to issue equitable relief. When the free exercise of religion is at stake, a threat certain to that right is enough to constitute irreparable harm,” the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe states in the court documents. "And in view of the threat to the Tribe’s and its members’ constitutional right, this Court may not wait until the oil is slithering under the Tribe’s sacred waters. The law entitles the Tribe to relief as soon as the government acts to threaten their rights."

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is expected to file its own legal challenge to the easement by the end of the week.

The granting of the easement follows Tuesday’s decision by Robert Speer, acting secretary of the Army, to terminate the notice of intent to perform an Environmental Impact Statement and to notify Congress of the Army’s intent to grant permission for the Oahe crossing. Speer said the decision was made based on a sufficient amount of available information.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe said in a statement Tuesday it will “challenge any easement decision” on the ground that the Environmental Impact Statement was “wrongfully terminated.” The tribe said it will also “demand a fair, accurate and lawful Environmental Impact Statement to identify true risks to its treaty rights, including its water supply and sacred places.”

If the Dakota Access Pipeline is successfully completed and begins operating, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe said it will “seek to shut the pipeline operations down.”

After receiving the easement to build the pipeline across land on both sides of the reservoir, the Texas-based developer, Energy Transfer Partners, announced it would resume construction immediately. The Dakota Access Pipeline, which would connect oil production areas in North Dakota to an existing crude oil terminal near Patoka, Illinois, is expected to be in service in the second quarter of 2017.

"We plan to begin drilling immediately,” a company spokesperson told ABC News in a statement Wednesday night. “The drill under Lake Oahe will take approximately 60 days. It will take an additional 23 days to fill the line to Patoka, Illinois; enabling Dakota Access to be in service in approximately 83 days."

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has been at the forefront of massive and prolonged protests that have stalled work on the pipeline for months. The demonstrations have drawn thousands of Native Americans, environmental activists and their allies to the Standing Rock reservation. The protesters, who call themselves “water protectors,” argue that the pipeline will threaten the reservation’s water supply and traverse culturally sacred sites.

Kelcy Warren, CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, has said that “concerns about the pipeline’s impact on local water supply are unfounded” and “multiple archaeological studies conducted with state historic preservation offices found no sacred items along the route.”

In the final days of President Barack Obama’s administration, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy announced on Dec. 4 that an easement would not be granted for the pipeline to cross under the large reservoir on the Missouri River.

Darcy said at the time of the decision that the Army Corps “shall engage” in additional review and analysis to include a “robust consideration and discussion of alternative locations for the pipeline crossing the Missouri River."

All these steps, Darcy determined, would best be accomplished by the Army Corps preparing a full Environmental Impact Statement allowing for public input, a process that could take years. Darcy is no longer in the position after the change in administrations.

The move to deny the easement was hailed by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other pipeline opponents as a major victory. But on his second weekday in office, President Donald Trump signed a memorandum aimed at advancing the Dakota Access Pipeline, along with another one directed at the Keystone XL Pipeline.

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Protests erupt from Boston to California as Confederate monument tensions boil over

Protests erupt from Boston to California as Confederate monument tensions boil overSpencer Platt/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The weekend after a white nationalist rally collapsed into chaos in Charlottesville, Virginia, leading to the alleged murder of an anti-racism activist, protests erupted across the country against white supremacy, racism and the presence of Confederate monuments.

Boston, Massachusetts

Tens of thousands counterprotesting a rally purporting to be about free speech swarmed Boston on Saturday, leading to a few conflicts with police and widespread attention from traditional and social media.

A total of 33 arrests were made Saturday in Boston, primarily resulting from disorderly conduct and alleged assaults against police officers, the Boston Police Department said. Police indicated that some demonstrators were throwing rocks and bottles of urine, but that did not represent the majority of participants, according to Police Commissioner William Evans.

"99.9 percent of the people here were for the right reasons" and participated peacefully, Evans said.

Dallas, Texas

Thousands of demonstrators gathered around the area of Dallas City Hall Saturday at a rally calling for unity, according to ABC affiliate WFAA-TV.

More than a dozen activists, politicians and faith leaders spoke prior to a candlelight vigil, the affiliate reported.

Tensions were high near Confederate War Memorial Park, where calls have been growing to remove statues commemorating Civil War veterans who fought for the Confederacy, WFAA-TV reported.

Cotton candy and caramel apples for sale for $3 in the middle of this protest against Dallas' Confederate War Memorial. pic.twitter.com/SdWNhGmTP1

— Jason Whitely (@JasonWhitely) August 20, 2017

Monuments commemorating the Confederacy on public land "must be and will be removed," Dallas Mayor Dwaine Caraway said at a Friday press conference, which featured black members of Dallas's City Council, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Kevin Felder, one of the City Council members, said "taxpayer dollars should not support vestiges of racism and white supremacy," in reference to the statues, while speaking at Friday's press conference.

Five people were detained during Saturday’s rally and then released without charges, the Dallas Police Department told ABC News.

Memphis, Tennessee

Six demonstrators were arrested in Memphis following a rally to remove a monument to Nathan Bedford Forrest, a slavetrader and lieutenant general who served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, according to ABC affiliate WATN-TV.

The monument has become a flashpoint of tension between anti-racism activists, who covered it with anti-racist signs on Saturday, and those who seek to protect the history of the Confederacy.

Gene Andrews, a caretaker for Nathan Bedford Forrest's boyhood home and a participant in the white nationalist rally that took place in Charlottesville last week, told the Tennessean newspaper that tensions over the monuments were building.

"I think people have had enough," Andrews told the paper. "Somewhere there’s going to be a line drawn. And if it’s a war that’s coming, so be it."

Our beloved @tamisawyer and other activists calling on @MayorMemphis remove Confederate statues. #TakeEmDown901 pic.twitter.com/bwjtTmEimp

— Broderick Greer (@BroderickGreer) August 16, 2017

Atlanta, Georgia

Hundreds of groups gathered in Centennial Olympic Park on Saturday in Atlanta to march against racism and hate, according to ABC affiliate WSB-TV.

The march ended at the tomb of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the affiliate reported.

Hundreds of anti-racism marchers quietly filing into Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta. #Charlottesville pic.twitter.com/gTApyUpWbI

— Rikki Klaus (@RikkiKlausWSB) August 20, 2017

Indianapolis, Indiana

Anthony Ventura, a 30-year-old man, was arrested after police said he damaged the Confederate statue with a hammer, according to ABC affiliate WRTV.

Laguna Beach, California

In Laguna Beach on Saturday, a group of about 300 demonstrators met for a pre-emptive response to a far-right rally planned for that day, the Los Angeles Times reported. At the rally, participants planned to call attention to victims of crimes committed by immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.

Thank you to Saturday's rally at Main Beach for staying peaceful while expressing your First Amendment rights. #LagunaBeach pic.twitter.com/mufznrEBIL

— Laguna Beach Police (@LagunaBeachPD) August 19, 2017

Saturday’s gathering of counterprotesters, which was set up to show solidarity and strength, was officially called “From Charlottesville to Laguna Beach: We Stand Together.” Laguna Beach Mayor Toni Iseman helped organize the event and spoke to the crowd on Saturday, the Los Angeles Times reported.

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