MCEA Staff blog regularly about current environmental issues and how they relate to MCEA's work.
Eric Biber used the confrontation between the Standing Rock tribe and the proposed pipeline in North Dakota to make a broader point about how federal (and state) agencies can overuse what are called "general permits" to avoid having to deal with the environmental impacts of major projects. Agencies like the US Army Corps of Engineers develop general permits that govern all projects of a certain kind. The idea is that it is inefficient to require a full-blown permit process, with environmental review, for smaller projects where the environmental impacts and ways to mitigate them are pretty clear. The problem is if that process gets extended to major projects, which appears to be what has happened in North Dakota. The Corps has a general permit for pipelines, and says no environmental review of this big pipeline project is required because all the Corps has jurisdiction over is the place where the pipeline would go under the Missouri River.
We will see how this plays out in the courts, but the moral of the story is to be wary of "general permits" for major projects that really need comprehensive environmental review.