Maybe it was the incipient televised public relations disaster of militarized police doing battle with military veterans acting as human shields for the protesters that finally forced the Obama administration's hand.
But whatever the motivation - fear of democracy, pragmatism or a genuine concern for the environment - the basic human right of clean water has at least temporarily prevailed over Big Oil.
It's a testament to the power and value of human solidarity that for once in a very great while, people have actually won over profits. It helped enormously that celebrities and popular politicians like Tulsi Gabbard and the military son of Democratic bigwig Wesley Clark directly joined the cause and physically showed up at the protest site in frigid, snow-covered North Dakota.
In the face of continuing horrible publicity, the Army Corps of Engineers did an abrupt about-face and announced on Sunday that it would not, after all, grant the permit for the Dakota Access Pipeline to drill under the Missouri River.
Mind you, this is only the latest reprieve for the Standing Rock Sioux. As stressed in the letter announcing the decision, the government will now "explore alternative routes." The addition of the buzz-phrase "there's more work to be done" in the written decision is neoliberal code for kicking the can down the road until Barack Obama can hand over responsibility for any potential bloodbath or environmental disaster to Donald Trump. If Obama has demonstrated anything during his eight years in office, it's his loathing of direct confrontation.
He'd already waited as patiently as he could throughout months of brutal corporate funded police assaults against the protesters before ordering his first timid temporary halt to further construction this past September. His decision came in the wake of the Army Corps of Engineers overriding the Environmental Protection Agency and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation by giving the green light to pipeline construction beneath the Missouri River, prime source of drinking water for the local population.
Obama, if he wanted to, could Trump-proof the pipeline construction permanently by declaring the region a national monument. But he has preferred not to. He prefers to ride out his term and call himself the good guy in the process. He is being praised far and wide for his statesmanship. In the age of Trump, statesmanship has been reduced to delaying the inevitable.
Trump, who is personally invested in the pipeline, has already trumpeted his intention to resume construction of the $3.8 billion project once he takes office. For one thing, native Americans and Hollywood stars and environmental activists are not part of his voting base. For another thing, he is not about to evoke the wrath of other global finance industry investors which make up "Energy Transfer Partners." (not to be confused with the diverse cast of characters paid to act in those oily "I'm An Energy Voter" commercials which in turn allowed CNN and others to give Trump his $5 billion worth of free advertising time -- which propelled him to victory.)
The oil profiteers, Energy Transfer Partners, and Republicans in Congress might be pretending to kvetch about the Corps of Engineers' delaying tactics now, but just wait a few weeks. This is only a petty skirmish to these pathocrats. The brutal class warriors do not give up.