United States Senator Tom Udall and Senator Martin Heinrich
(A video worth watching if Native American Issues interest you)
December 14, 2016
Thank you for contacting me regarding the Dakota Pipeline. I appreciate hearing from you on this important issue.
As you may now the Dakota Access Pipeline Project, owned by Energy Transfer Projects (ETP), is a 1,172-mile pipeline that would stretch across areas of North Dakota to southern Illinois. In 2015, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) worked and published their environmental assessment, in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), regarding the pipeline through Standing Rock Sioux Reservation located in North Dakota. In August of 2016, the Standing Rock Sioux filed an injunction, asking for the court to withdraw all permits for construction issued by USACE due to a lack of Tribal consultation.
Protesters have since continuously expressed concerns of damage to sacred sites and burial places within tribal lands due to construction and fear of future pipeline spills contaminating local drinking water sources. At one point during the protest, several injuries were reported when private security personnel employed the use of guard dogs to subdue protesters. Reports of violence continued and the sacred tribal burial ground were threatened before construction was temporarily halted on September 6 by U.S. District Judge James Boasberg.
On September 8, 2016, I along with other members of the New Mexico delegation sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking the administration to intervene in the recent escalation of violence and deploy federal resources to ensure Tribal members and others can protest peacefully. This comes the same day that the North Dakota National Guard law enforcement efforts at the protest site were increased. On September 9, 2016, District Judge Boasberg denied the Standing Rock Sioux's injunction request. The Obama administration also announced they halted the construction of the pipeline near the river crossing on land owned by the Corps of Engineers while the agencies review whether reconsideration is needed under NEPA or other federal laws.
The federal court of appeals again refused to grant an injunction on October 10, 2016. The next day, the administration issued another statement, refusing to authorize construction permits for ETP. It further requested they stop construction voluntarily. Against the administrations wishes, ETP continued with construction.
During my time in Congress if has been a priority of mine to protect New Mexico's and our nation's air, water, and beautiful lands, along with tribal cultural sites. The Dakota Pipeline is an example of infrastructure that must be examined to ensure the protection of the local environment, community, and water sources, with full tribal consultation.
As the senator representing 23 sovereign Tribes and ranking member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, I believe a formal conversation is much needed and welcome the decision of administration's decision to invite Tribes to a formal government-to-government consultation about steps that can be taken to protect sacred lands, resources, and treaty rights. You may be interested to know that I sent another letter to President Obama urging better Tribal consultation for federal decisions on projects like the Dakota Access Pipeline.