​Trump denies disaster declaration for Dakota Access Pipeline protest cost

Part of the protest camp agains the Dakota Access Pipeline in February 2017. Image: sacredstonecamp.org

BISMARCK, N.D. _ The Trump administration rejected North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum's request for a "major disaster declaration" to help cover some of the estimated $38 million cost to police protests of the Dakota Access pipeline, a spokesman for the Republican governor said Thursday.

Burgum publicly announced in April his letter to President Donald Trump seeking the disaster declaration to pave the way federal aid.

The governor was notified in May that the request was denied by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Burgum spokesman Mike Nowatzki said. The governor's office didn't announce the denial until reporters asked about it this week.

The denial was not unexpected because such declarations typically involve natural disasters, and not "civil-unrest-related disasters," Nowatzki said.

"It wasn't a surprise to us," he said. "We knew it was a longshot."

The state had 30 days to appeal but did not, he added.

North Dakota's costs resulted from about six months of protests against the $3.8 billion pipeline built by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners to move North Dakota oil to Illinois. Hundreds and sometimes thousands of opponents camped on federal land in southern North Dakota, often clashing with police and National Guard soldiers who set up a staging area nearby that morphed into a small village. There were 761 arrests in the region between early August and late February.

Burgum, in his 11-page letter to Trump, said the federal government bore "significant" responsibility for the costs because it failed to "enforce its regulations and maintain law and order on its property."

The state has borrowed money from the state-owned Bank of North Dakota to cover the law enforcement costs. It also is anticipating up to $10 million from a Justice Department grant, Nowatzki said.

The state also has a longstanding offer from the pipeline's developer to help the state recoup the costs.

Energy Transfer Partners spokeswoman Vicki Granado said in an email to The Associated Press on Thursday that the offer still stands because "we know it placed a great burden on the state."

Nowatzki said Burgum has not yet dismissed the offer.

"Everything is on the table," Nowatzki said. "The governor believes North Dakota taxpayers should not have to foot this bill."

The long-delayed project was finished after Trump took office and called for its completion. On June 1, the pipeline began moving North Dakota oil to a distribution point in Illinois, from which it's shipped to the Gulf Coast.

North Dakota Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger said the pipeline "is already having a positive impact on state tax revenue because of the cheaper transportation."

Industry officials have estimated the pipeline could shave shipping costs by more than $3 a barrel. Rauschenberger said it already has lowered shipping costs by about $2.50 a barrel for drillers.

State tax officials estimate every dollar saved on the per-barrel shipping price means about $33 million annually in added tax revenue, a sum that in the long run would more than offset the law enforcement costs.

© 2017 The Canadian Press