By Baynard Woods

Days after the Keystone pipeline leaked 5,000 barrels of oil in South Dakota, Nebraska regulators approved a route for TransCanada Corp’s similar Keystone XL pipeline through that state.

The 3-2 vote lifts the last major regulatory obstacle for the long-delayed project connecting Canada’s Alberta tar sands oil fields to U.S. refineries, although the ruling is expected to be challenged in court.

Former President Barack Obama halted the project in 2015, but Donald Trump, who campaigned on the issue claiming that it would create both jobs and domestic energy, overturned Obama’s ruling and issued a permit to TransCanada only months into his administration.

The Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes sued the Army Corps of Engineers to stop the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline, claiming it could contaminate their water supply and destroy significant archeological sites.

A coalition of American Indian and environmental groups amassed on the Standing Rock reservation to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline, which goes through tribal lands, in the face of harsh opposition from an increasingly militarized law enforcement.

Months of protests came to an end when the camp was forcefully evacuated at the end of February.

In March, Native activists descended on the White House to demand a stop to the pipeline. “The reason I am here is to represent our future generations and be their voice, part of the resistance in decolonizing our minds,” JoRee LaFrance, a member of the Crow tribe from Montana, told me. “Protecting our waters should be our number one priority, and that’s why we’re all here—to unite and protect tribal sovereignty and to protect indigenous people and their waters. People need to realize indigenous people are doing this for all people, not just indigenous people. We’re here to protect the water for all people.”

Activists and indigenous people say they tried to tell the government the pipeline was not safe. Last week, when TransCanada detected the leak in South Dakota, alarms went up through Nebraska.

“If this spill had happened along the proposed route in Nebraska, it would be absolutely devastating,” Brian Jorde, a lawyer representing Nebraska landowners opposed to Keystone XL, told Reuters. “Their proposed route is within a mile of thousands of water wells.”

The Nebraska Public Service Commission did not approve TransCanada’s preferred route, which some activists see as a partial victory. The approved route is longer and more expensive and there is some hope that the company will not pursue the route.

Reuters contributed to this report

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