What's the long-term outlook for the Dakota Access Pipeline?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Protesters won a big 11th-hour victory from the Obama administration yesterday that prevents the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

But is it just a temporary delay until President-elect Trump takes office? The nearly 1,200-mile pipeline was almost complete before this weekend's announcement. One of the last stretches is a single-mile segment that goes under the Missouri River. The battle has been raging for seven months now.

And to Hari Sreenivasan for our update.

MAN: The Corps of Engineers is going to deny the easement.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

HARI SREENIVASAN: Thousands of protesters celebrated the announcement late yesterday.

On Sunday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it wouldn't grant the final easement to allow the pipeline to be drilled. Instead, the Corps said it would begin exploring alternative routes. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe and others say the pipeline will destroy sacred lands and are worried an oil leak could threaten the tribe's water supply.

North Dakota's governor, the company and members of the state's congressional delegation all denounced the decision.

William Brangham has been covering the story for months, and is with us again tonight.

William, this doesn't seem to be over. I don't see the protesters breaking camp. I don't see anybody jumping for joy.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: No.

There was some joy certainly yesterday, and I think, obviously, some spillover into today, because, for many people, this was considered an enormous victory. This is what the Standing Rock tribe and all of its thousands of supporters have wanted for months, which was to stop the pipeline going under the Missouri River right next to the tribe.

Now, whether this is over or not is still an issue. The Army Corps didn't cancel the pipeline. They didn't say it's definitely not going here. They said, let's take a longer review, let's talk to the tribes some more, and let's consider some alternate routes.

So, it's still not clear if this is, in fact, the done deal.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And the alternate route idea doesn't sit well with the local authorities and the company.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: No.

The company has, from the very beginning, been steadfast that they will not move this pipeline. The governor of North Dakota has said the pipeline is not going to be moved.

Now, the Army Corps of Engineers could and has in the past looked at other routes. There's multiple ways to cross the Missouri River here. But right now, the Army Corps of Engineers says all options are open and they're going back to the drawing board, in essence.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, what happens to the protesters in the coldest part of winter heading into this area now?

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Well, that's still an open question. We don't know yet.

The head of the Standing Rock Sioux, the chairman, David Archambault Ii, he, in essence, declared this as a victory, and he said, people, you can go home now, things are safe.

I think, in the back of their minds, they know that, just as the Obama administration made this happen, a Trump administration might try to reverse course. So, I think everyone is recognizing subzero temperatures. This is a very, very hard place to live out in the open on the prairies of North Dakota.

It's freezing. So, everyone, go home, rest, that's what the chairman seems to be saying. And if we need to call on you again, we will do so.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Is there any indication that the policy change after the inauguration of Donald Trump?

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Well, certainly.

That's — this was, in essence, driven in large part by pressure brought to bear on the Obama administration and them asking the Army Corps to take a second look at this.

So, what the Obama administration has done, the Trump administration could undo. And Trump has been very clear from the get-go he wants this pipeline to be built.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And that tribe has had a, well, complicated relationship with the Army Corps, this particular decision that they support, but, in the past, there's a lot of decisions that they have not.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: That's correct.

I mean, there have been a lot of instances where the tribe has said, we have not been consulted on these types of events in the past.

In fact, one of the biggest critics of this is a Congressman Kevin Cramer from North Dakota. He points out, good luck on trying to do any infrastructure projects in the U.S. going forward, if you can simply overturn it like this.

But he says, on this very same land, natural gas pipelines have been put through, electric high-tension power lines have gone through. And the tribe wasn't happy about that, but they said that they had no power to do anything about it, whereas, with this pipeline, they did.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Just recently, there was audio of the conversations that took place and where the tribe was considering this, because one of the contentions that the tribe had is that: We were not part of this process.

Right?

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: That's right.

The audio that you're referring to is an instance of several years ago, where the tribe made very clear that they didn't want this pipeline coming anywhere near them.

The problem with that is that, in subsequent meetings, the Army Corps has been saying: We have asked for the tribe to continue to offer further input.

And they argue that they simply didn't respond and that they didn't come to subsequent meetings. But I think it's been quite clear the tribe has been against this from the get-go.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, William Brangham, thanks so much.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Thanks, Hari.

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