As with most issues between Indian country and the federal government, the important bits are steeped in legalese and long numerical references to laws and regulations. The very stuff of life and its protection, however, is referenced and hidden within these dryly-worded documents.
A set of regulations created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) called Appendix C is one such example, and it may determine the future of the Dakota Access Pipeline project as well as other projects for which the Army Corps is responsible for issuing federal permits.
It turns out that tribes have been complaining about the legality of Appendix C for a very long time, and with good reason. Appendix C spells out how the Corps will meet its obligation to fulfill Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), created to protect places of historic, architectural and/or cultural significance.
Part of the NPHA’s Section 106 requires that agencies carry out the process in consultation with Tribal Historic Preservation Officers (THPO) and identify and assess impacts to properties of traditional religious and cultural significance to tribes. Although all federal agencies are allowed to create their own means by which they fulfill the requirements of Section 106, the Army Corps chose to streamline the process by creating its own regulations that tribes and other federal agencies argue not only fail to meet the requirement of the NHPA’s Section 106, but are also in direct conflict with the law.
The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) is an independent federal agency charged by Congress with overseeing implementation of the NHPA. The Corps contradicts several of ACHP’s regulations through use of its own process spelled out under Appendix C.
The differences between Section 106 regulations and Appendix C are substantial. Chief among these differences includes the Corps’ decision in the Standing Rock case to review each river crossing of the Dakota Access pipeline as a separate project rather than consider the entire pipeline as one project.
“This allows the Corps to dismiss the potential for effects to historic properties that may be located within the broader project area of an undertaking,” according to an August 2, 2016 letter from the ACHP to the Corps.