Native tribes around U.S. vow to step up pipeline protests

WASHINGTON/HOUSTON, Feb 8 (Reuters) - Native American groups said they would step up efforts to block the development of energy infrastructure across the United States to prevent future water contamination and damage to sacred land, following the defeat for the Standing Rock Sioux in its battle against the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline.

Protesters were set to gather in a number of U.S. cities on Wednesday, a day after the U.S. Army said in a legal filing it planned to cancel an environmental study and grant the final easement needed to complete the Dakota pipeline.

The permit was widely regarded as inevitable after President Donald Trump in January ordered federal agencies to speed up processing the application.

In states including Texas, Louisiana, Wisconsin and the Dakotas, Native American groups said they will intensify efforts ranging from legal action, protests and legislative moves against both developing and existing energy projects.

“We stand very firm against the Dakota Access ... It’s going to make us fight a lot harder. What the Army Corps is doing, that’s just another notch in their belt to tell us no,” said Chief Shirell Parfait-Dardar of the Grand Caillou/Dulac Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw in Louisiana.

They are among the opponents of Energy Transfer Partners’ Bayou Bridge crude pipeline extension, which would run from Lake Charles to St. James, Louisiana. Energy Transfer is the company behind the 1,170-mile (1,885 km) Dakota line.

Native American activists say they were galvanized by the protests in North Dakota, where opponents started to camp out last April. The protests slowly grew through the summer, and started to intensify after dogs attacked some of the activists on the site.

Throughout the fall, there were 3,000 to 5,000 people regularly at camps in opposition to the pipeline.

After law enforcement used water cannons on protesters in sub-freezing weather in late November, the camp swelled to more than 10,000 people, a mix of Native tribes, climate activists and military veterans.

Around the United States, protesters, who call themselves “water protectors,” have taken Trump’s executive orders for Dakota Access and TransCanada Corp’s Keystone XL line as an attack on treaty rights and vowed to keep up the pressure.

“Indian tribes are not opposed to infrastructure ... we need roads and bridges and schools and hospitals just like everyone else. But tribes need to be respected as governments, and the process for infrastructure has to take our rights and interests into account,” said National Congress of American Indians President Brian Cladoosby. He had been instrumental in bringing Obama’s attention to the Dakota pipeline protests in September.

The Standing Rock Sioux, along with other Native tribes, have already planned a march in Washington, D.C., on March 10.

Even as some said they were planning on returning to protest in North Dakota - responding to a call from the Sacred Stone camp, the original protest camp, for activism and prayer - many said they were focusing on their own lands, including the Trans-Pecos line in west Texas and the Diamond Pipeline in Oklahoma.

Opposition to Plains All American Pipeline LP’s Diamond crude line from Cushing, Oklahoma, to Memphis, Tennessee, has drawn the attention of the Mvskoke Nation of Oklahoma, which in late February plans to hold a tribal council to oppose the line.

In Wisconsin, the Bad River Band tribe recently decided not to renew an easement for Enbridge Energy Partners LP’s Line 5 and is requesting the pipe be removed from their lands.

Joye Braun, a community organizer from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, is working with communities adjacent to or on the Keystone XL route.

The Trump administration invited TransCanada to resubmit its application to build that pipeline, which was struck down in 2015 by the Obama administration. A number of landowners in Nebraska were bitterly opposed to that line. TransCanada has since resubmitted its application, though it is unclear whether the line will be built.

“These pipelines are a direct threat to the Great Sioux Nation, to our treaty rights,” said Braun, after Trump issued his executive orders. (Writing by David Gaffen; Editing by Matthew Lewis)