BISMARCK, N.D. (Reuters) - North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple said on Thursday he hopes federal officials will soon lay out a path for how the Dakota Access Pipeline can obtain regulatory approval, adding he believes recent delays by the Obama administration are not an attempt to block the controversial project.
The remarks in an interview come as more than 7,000 protesters from around the world have descended on the sparsely populated state to protest the pipeline, amplifying concerns from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe that it would disrupt nearby historical Native American sites.
A federal judge on Friday rejected a request from the tribe to halt the pipeline’s construction, saying regulators had adequately performed archeological reconnaissance. The judge did not rule on the line’s potential environmental effects since they were not raised by the tribe’s lawsuit.
The Obama administration quickly followed the judge’s ruling with an order temporarily blocking construction in a dammed portion of the Missouri River controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a step that surprised state officials and has put the pipeline, which would move oil from North Dakota to Illinois, in jeopardy.
“I am hoping this is not a stonewall tactic,” Dalrymple, a Republican, said in an interview at the state’s capitol.
“I can’t believe that that’s really what they want. They seem to be talking about the process going forward, and if that’s what the discussion is about, everyone is happy to participate.”
The governor said he has been talking all week with the Department of Justice, Army Corps and other federal officials about the permit delay.
“I think there will be announcements coming out in the next few days,” he said.
Dalrymple, who leaves office in December, urged the Obama administration not to conflate review of permits for the Dakota Access line with a broader goal, announced on Friday, of overhauling the permitting process for pipelines near Native American lands.
“That is really two separate things,” he said. Dalrymple said has not spoken with President Obama about the pipeline, but added, “maybe I should.”
Dalrymple and other state regulators noted the Dakota Access line has already gone through more than two years of state and federal regulatory review, that most of it sits on private land and that it would run 92 feet under the Missouri River’s bed.
“There was a stringent regulatory review process here,” said Julie Fedorchak, chair of the North Dakota Public Service Commission, which regulates pipelines in the state. “There gets to be a point where you wonder if there’s enough review that can be done to satisfy environmental groups.”
Tribal members contend they were not adequately consulted during the review process, although Dalrymple and Fedorchak said the tribe did not respond to requests for input. The Army Corps made similar statements in its legal filings.
The Sioux “had chances to consult and have their issues addressed, and they chose not to,” Fedorchak said.
Yet the tribes and their supporters have successfully fought back, winning the delay from the Obama administration and forcing a fresh regulatory review.
On federally controlled land in Cannon Ball, N.D., about an hour south of the state capitol, tribal members have erected a camp to protest the pipeline, offering prayers that it does not get built.
Dalrymple, who has not visited the site, sent the National Guard to patrol the area, saying local officials in the remote region were stretched thin by providing services to a de facto new town.
“This is a very big test for a small state like ours,” said the governor.
Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Editing by Cynthia Osterman
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