BISMARCK — The state of North Dakota sued the federal government in an effort to recover $38 million the state spent while responding to the massive Dakota Access Pipeline protests, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said Thursday, July 18.
The lawsuit comes a year after Stenehjem filed a claim that said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' inaction required the state to provide a "sustained, large-scale public safety response" to the protests. Gov. Doug Burgum has said officers made 761 arrests in eight months, while about 1,400 law enforcement officers assisted with protest efforts.
Despite pleas from the state's congressional delegation that the agency discuss a settlement, Stenehjem said Thursday the Corps didn't respond to the state's claim.
"But now, with this lawsuit, they will have no choice, at long last, to come in and attempt to explain in a court of law its abdication of its responsibilities under the law," he told reporters in a news conference held in his office at the state Capitol.
Stenehjem said the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in North Dakota, aims to hold the Corps "legally responsible for its total and abject failure to enforce its own laws."
Three protest camps were located on Corps-managed land near the oil pipeline's Lake Oahe crossing, and the Corps didn't enforce requirements for protesters to have permits, among other shortcomings, Stenehjem said in the lawsuit. He said the Corps could have at least minimized the law enforcement and environmental impact of the protests.
The protests stemmed from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's concerns that the pipeline threatened its drinking water and sacred sites, drawing thousands to south-central North Dakota.
The $3.8 billion pipeline from western North Dakota to Illinois was spearheaded by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners and began service in June 2017, after President Donald Trump moved to approve it once he took office. Plans have recently been announced to expand the line's capacity, prompting fresh concerns from the tribe and environmental groups, according to the Bismarck Tribune.
The Corps and the U.S. Department of Justice didn't return messages seeking comment Thursday afternoon.
Thursday's announcement marked another turn in the oil-rich state's efforts to recover its costs associated with the protests.
Trump declined Burgum’s request for a major disaster declaration in 2017. But a few months later, the Department of Justice awarded the state $10 million, and the pipeline's developer later donated $15 million to the state.
Stenehjem said that $25 million shouldn't offset the state's claim against the Corps.
"If the federal government wants to claim some kind of an offset, they can do that in court and we'll be prepared to argue with them there," he said.