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North Dakota Congressman Addresses Pipeline Controversy

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Protesters in North Dakota celebrated yesterday when the Army Corps of Engineers blocked - at least for now - a pipeline over the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Our next guest did not celebrate. North Dakota Republican Congressman Kevin Cramer spoke of a, quote, "lawless president" and vowed to fight on for the pipeline. He joins us now by phone. Congressman, welcome to the program.

KEVIN CRAMER: Thanks for having me, Steve.

INSKEEP: Let's just remind people who are catching up here - the Army Corps of Engineers denied an easement permission to run a pipeline under a reservoir that's part of the Missouri River on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. What's lawless about that?

CRAMER: Well, what's lawless is that it previously had issued the permit and gave every indication - in fact, we've - we know they've had the easement - the draft easement - done on their desk for several months. And the pipeline's been built up to the river, and it starts on the other side of the river and continues on. It's a pipeline that's about 90 - 90 percent done. It's about 99 percent done in North Dakota. And all of the NEPA process - the National Environmental Policy Act process was followed. It's been upheld by not just one federal judge in the D.C. circuit - a judge appointed by Barack Obama, no less - but also by a three - a three-member panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

INSKEEP: So your objection is that you feel that this decision was made at the last moment to accommodate protesters out there?

CRAMER: To accommodate protesters that were not - were anything but peaceful and prayerful, I might add. We've had to deal with a lot of violence, a lot of vandalism, but - and just started out, by the way, with disregard for our private property laws by trespassing.

INSKEEP: I just have to note that, of course, the protesters have their own stories of being hit with water cannons and so forth. There's certainly been a lot of allegations back and forth. But can I just ask on - on the merits here, isn't it true this pipeline route has been rerouted at least once before? Would it really be that hard to move this section of it again?

CRAMER: Well, it was rerouted 141 times as the result of consultation with tribes just in North Dakota alone. This is the preferred route because, Steve, one of the stories that rarely gets told is that this is an energy corridor that it's in. That's why it was chosen. There's a natural gas pipeline that already crosses the river there. There's a high-voltage electric transmission line that crosses the river there. It's by far the least intrusive, least imposing on - on people and cultural resources and waterways. So they can look at other routes again if they want, and they'll find that any other route is far more imposing and intrusive and less environmentally friendly than this one.

INSKEEP: Congressman, since you've raised the rule of law here, which is something that conservatives have been very concerned about with this president, this came up in a different context earlier in the program. I'd like to ask you about it. President-elect Trump is now promising more personal efforts, like the one with Carrier this past week - to go outside normal processes and personally push companies to keep jobs that he wants to keep in the United States. That is causing the president-elect's critics to say he's going outside the rule of law. Are you, as a Trump supporter, comfortable with President-elect Trump making personal decisions like this to push certain companies?

CRAMER: Well, I think until such time as we can get public policy that attracts business and makes the United States of America the attractive place to build your business rather than the least attractive - and I'm talking about things like regulatory policy and tax policy, especially, that currently puts us at a terrible global disadvantage. I think it's fine that he personally involves himself in some - in some specific cases, if he - as long as it's done within the laws. And I don't think - think it's outside the law for the president of the United States to advocate for jobs in his own country.

INSKEEP: Although it's outside the normal process for the president to call a specific company that does business with the U.S. government. And we're not entirely sure how that happened.

CRAMER: Well, accept that he is the president, and he's not going to be like all the other presidents. I think that that's pretty well established. I think it's part of why he was elected.

INSKEEP: Well, Congressman Cramer, thanks very much for taking this - the time this morning. Really appreciate it.

CRAMER: The pleasure is mine. Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: Kevin Cramer is a Republican representative from North Dakota, the site of protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.