(NEW YORK) -- The Army Corps of Engineers could reach a decision as early as this week on whether to grant an easement to the Dakota Access pipeline, according to an attorney for the government on Monday.
A decision "may occur by the end of the week," said Department of Justice attorney Matt Marinelli on behalf of the Army Corps of Engineers. If the easement is granted, construction on the controversial oil pipeline would resume.
Once the Army Corps review process is complete, a final decision will be made and the Army Corps will notify Congress as required, according to Marinelli.
This is the first time the Army Corps has placed a timeline on the decision. The Army Corps could not offer more specifics or a definitive timeline.
Attorneys for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe said that the easement would be "unlawful" and they expect to request the court to intervene quickly if it's granted. They also asked for a 48-hour notice of the decision.
"The Corps is making it clear that an easement decision is coming soon, potentially by the end of the week. If the Corps abandons the previously announced review process and issues the easement, it will be yet another case of Trump ordering a federal agency to sidestep the law—and the issue will be in front of a federal judge very quickly," said Jan Hasselman, an attorney for Earth Justice, which is representing Standing Rock.
Dakota Access LLC, a joint venture between Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners and other companies, told U.S. District Judge James Boasberg Monday that in the "best case scenario," it would take 60 days for the first oil to enter the pipeline and 83 days for oil to reach the other side of the pipeline in Illinois once construction begins. This would give the company time to complete its high-pressure water testing and other final tests, according to an attorney for Dakota Access LLC.
The company also argued that transporting oil through the four-state pipeline is much safer than other forms of transportation, such as rail or truck.
The 1,172-mile pipeline is almost finished, except for a section under Lake Oahe in North Dakota that’s been the focus of massive protests in recent months.
Nearly 80 protesters were arrested last Wednesday near the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota, authorities said.
According to the Morton County Sheriff's Department, "a rogue group of protesters" were illegally setting up camp on private property. The group was told its members were criminally trespassing and that they needed to leave immediately, authorities said.
Activists and representatives for the tribe say that the pipeline cuts through culturally sacred sites, poses a risk to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's water supply and creates an environmental hazard.
Within the final days of President Obama’s administration, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, Jo-Ellen Darcy, announced that an easement would not be granted for the pipeline to cross under the large reservoir on the Missouri River, just upstream of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reservation -- a move which was hailed by the tribe and other pipeline opponents as a major victory.
However, when President Trump took office, he signed a memorandum aimed at advancing the Dakota Access pipeline through a presidential memorandum, along with one directed at the Keystone XL pipeline.
Litigation over the Army Corps of Engineers review is now in federal court.
The judge scheduled a further status hearing for Monday, Feb. 13.
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