Jill Stein faces charges in North Dakota: What's next in pipeline protest?

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein will face criminal charges for her role in a protest of the North Dakota Access pipeline. While some construction of the pipeline has been halted, Native American tribes along its path still face uncertainty. 

(Alicia Ewen/KX News via AP)
On Sept. 6, 2016, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein prepares to spray-paint "I approve this message" in red paint on the blade of a bulldozer at a protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline in the area of Morton County, N.D.

This week, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein was charged for her role in a protest decrying the North Dakota Access pipeline and the ill effects it could have on a Native American tribe. On Friday, those pipeline protests were dealt a blow when a federal judge denied requests from the tribe to block the project’s construction.

But wait, there's a new wrinkle.

On Friday afternoon, the federal government issued an order for the Texas-based construction company, which received permits from the US Army Corp of Engineers, to halt work on one portion, and asked the company to voluntarily place another 40-mile stretch on hold.

The controversial plan has drawn protestors to the area of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation since April, where opponents object to the four-state pipeline that would stretch for more than 1,000 miles, carrying around half a million barrels of oil from North Dakota to Illinois. Advocates say the pipeline could ease the US’s dependency on foreign oil, while opponents, including the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, worry such a pipeline has the potential to contaminate their drinking water and say that its construction would interfere with sacred burial spaces.

More than 40 people have been arrested during the five months of protests, and after Dr. Stein appeared at a protest Tuesday, a warrant charging with criminal trespass and criminal mischief was issued.

At the scene, Stein, who has been a vocal advocate for the Native American protestors, spray-painted the words, “I approve this message” on a bulldozer.

"I hope the North Dakota authorities press charges against the real vandalism taking place at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation: the bulldozing of sacred burial sites and the unleashing of vicious attack dogs,” Stein said in a statement on her campaign site. "Our campaign supports the courageous Indigenous leaders who are taking a stand to protect future generations from the deadly greed of the fossil fuel industry. We approve of their vision and courage.”

As a third-party candidate, Stein's odds of becoming president are long. But she can use her candidacy as a platform for issues such as the pipeline. While Stein has generally polled between 3 and 4 percent, she received positive feedback for taking a stance on the pipeline, and some have praised her for not wavering on an issue that Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton has yet to address. 

Stein defended her decision while speaking in Omaha, Neb. earlier this week.

I felt like it was the least I could do in front of these Indian leaders, as they were putting their lives and their bodies on the line,” she said, according to the Omaha World-Herald. Her comments received a standing ovation from more than 200 people in the crowd.

Stein plans to return to North Dakota to face the charges against her, and is working on setting a court date.

Still, months of protests by tribe members and high-profile advocates like Stein couldn’t persuade a federal judge, who saw no reason to impose an injunction on the pipeline’s construction.

US District Judge James Boasberg in Washington said that the court scrutinized the suit "with particular care" for the tribe’s sacred lands, but ruled that the tribe "has not demonstrated that an injunction is warranted here."

In the suit, the tribe argued that the US Army Corps of Engineers failed to consult with them before issuing a permit for the pipeline, therefore neglecting provisions under the National Historic Preservation Act. Justice Boasberg, who issued a temporary, partial injunction on the pipeline Tuesday, said he saw neither a clear violation of the law on part of the corps nor evidence that the tribe’s lands would suffer in any way the court could prevent when ruling on the case Friday.

The tribe’s attorney, Jan Hasselman, said he would appeal the decision, and hopes to do so before the company completes the pipeline — which, if things going according to plan, could be by the end of this year. A status conference on the suit is scheduled to take place next Friday, Sept. 16.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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