After months of protest through icy conditions and several clashes with police, Native Americans gathered at the construction site of the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota celebrated a victory on Sunday. The Army Corps. of Engineers, responsible for issuing permits for the project, announced that they won't issue the approval necessary for the pipeline to continue construction on its current route.
For the thousands of Native American demonstrators, this turn of events is a relief, especially as harsh winter conditions sweep through the protest camps. But they're not all convinced that it's safe to pack up and go home just yet.
"It’s a blessing that the Army Corps. denied the easement, but we’re on a wait to see situation to see what the DAPL does next," Tom Goldtooth, a protester from the Navajo and Dakota tribes, told Fusion. "We have President Donald Trump coming in and we know what he represents so we may have a long battle."
While this marks a significant turning point in the battle over the DAPL, it's far from the end of the story. Here are the three possible paths the project could go down in the coming months:
Energy Transfer Partners said in a statement yesterday that they plan on building the pipeline on the original route despite the Army Corps. of Engineers' announcement.
“As stated all along, ETP and SXL are fully committed to ensuring that this vital project is brought to completion and fully expect to complete construction of the pipeline without any additional rerouting in and around Lake Oahe. Nothing this Administration has done today changes that in any way," the statement reads.
This sets the situation up for a legal challenge to the federal agency's decision. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court set a precedent allowing federal court challenges to the Army Corps. of Engineers' decisions when they relate to water quality.
In their decision about the DAPL, the Army said they were denying an easement for ETP to construct the pipeline under the Missouri River. They said they'll be preparing an environmental impact statement–something activists and other federal agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency have been calling for.
The Army Corps of Engineers could also suggest an alternative to the current plan, a suggestion originally floated by President Obama last month. Whatever path it takes could still cross the Missouri River and could impact other towns along the way and is likely to encounter more resistance.
Previously, the company had considered constructing the pipeline north of Bismarck, N.D. The decision to build instead on a path that the Standing Rock Sioux say crosses sacred ground and could endanger their water supply seems, to some activists, to be a result of "environmental racism," which they say tramples their rights while respecting those of non-Native citizens.
The tests the new route will have to pass will also be more stringent, since the Army says they'll conduct an environmental impact statement with full community consultation, a more rigorous and time-consuming process than the environmental assessment that was conducted for Energy Transfer Partners' current plan.
When he takes office on Jan. 20, Donald Trump could issue an executive order pushing through the pipeline regardless of what federal agencies say. The President-elect has said that he supports the Dakota Access Pipe Line's construction, and been a vocal supporter of another pipeline, the Keystone XL, which was rejected by President Obama in November last year.
Trump transition team communications director Jason Miller told reporters this morning that the incoming administration will "support the construction of" the pipeline, and said the situation will be under review when Trump is in the White House.