For many months, we watched as water protectors and activists protested against the Dakota Access Pipeline. And in early December, it seemed like the conflict at Standing Rock had ended when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers halted the project in order to explore alternate routes. But for those fighting against the pipeline, it was not enough to stop the construction — what they ultimately wanted was for the project to be killed. And now it's easy to see why: President Trump just signed an executive order that would advance the construction of the project and Keystone XL pipeline. "From now on we are going to start making pipelines in the United States," the president said. The move threatens to undo President Obama's environmental legacy, and it's likely that it will be met with pushback from environmental activists. Ahead, we break down what his executive action means — and what could happen next.
What does the executive order do?Trump's executive action basically clears the way for the pipelines to get approval from the government. It also shows that the new administration is favoring the expansion of energy infrastructure over continuing the environmental policies set by the Obama administration. In the case of the Dakota Access pipeline, the order instructed the Army Corps of Engineers to "review and approve [the project] in an expedited manner, to the extent permitted by law." This would be a defeat for the Native American tribes and environmental activists who for months fought against the $3.8 billion project because it threatened Standing Rock's water resources and sacred sites. For the Keystone XL pipeline, Trump "invites" the TransCanada corporation to "re-submit its application." This would be a huge blow for the people who fought for more than seven years against the project, a transnational pipeline that would extend from Canada to the Gulf Coast. The venture was killed by President Obama in 2015 because it would contribute to climate change and deter American efforts to reach a global deal addressing this issue.
After signing his order, Trump told reporters that they would "renegotiate some of the terms" of the Keystone construction. He added if they get the pipeline built, they could add a "lot of jobs, 28,000 jobs, great construction."
What are activists saying?Greenpeace executive director Annie Leonard condemned the decision and said the same activists that have stalled the projects will continue to fight against their advancement. "Keystone, the Dakota Access Pipeline, and fossil fuel infrastructure projects like them will only make billionaires richer and make the rest of us suffer," she said in a statement, according to NBC News. "We will resist this with all of our power and we will continue to build the future the world wants to see." Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, said his organization would continue fighting, just as they did when they led the protests against Keystone. "This is not a done deal," he said in a statement reported by The New York Times. "The last time around, TransCanada was so confident they literally mowed the strip where they planned to build the pipeline, before people power stopped them. People will mobilize again."
What's going to happen now?Last week, protesters who have remained at Standing Rock after the December victory were asked to go home due to the hazardous weather conditions in the area. So instead of being on the ground, it's likely the Standing Rock Sioux will return to court. Even though Congress can't undo executive orders, the tribe can take legal action in an effort to block the pipeline. If necessary, they could carry the lawsuit all the way to the Supreme Court. In the case of the Keystone XL pipeline, it's unclear whether TransCanada will re-submit the application for the project. They had previously said they were interested in reviving the pipeline, but we have to wait and see what they will make of Trump's statement that there would be "negotiations."