Court Upholds Order for Dakota Access Environmental Review

(AP) — A federal appeals court upheld a district judge’s order for a full environmental impact review of the Dakota Access pipeline, but declined to shut the line down while the review is completed.

Following a complaint by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg said in April 2020 that a more extensive review was necessary than the environmental assessment conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile (1,886 kilometer) pipeline crosses beneath the Missouri River, just north of the the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation that straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border. The tribe, which draws its water from the river, says it fears pollution.

The U.S. Court of Appeals ruling does not require the pipeline to stop operating or be emptied of oil, as Boasberg had initially ruled. The appellate court blocked that order last summer.

“This pipeline is now operating illegally. It doesn’t have any permits,” said Jan Hasselman, the EarthJustice attorney representing Standing Rock and other tribes. “The appeals court put the ball squarely in the court of the Biden administration to take action. And I mean shutting the pipeline down until this environmental review is completed.”

EarthJustice said in a release Dakota Access should not be allowed to operate until the Corps decides after its review whether to reissue a federal permit granting easement for the pipeline to cross beneath Lake Oahe. The group said Biden has the discretion to shut the pipeline down; last week, the leaders of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Oglala Sioux Tribe, and Yankton Sioux Tribe wrote to the president asking him to do so.

North Dakota Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer said the court was right to reject the shutdown and wants Biden to stay out of it.

“The Army Corps of Engineers should be allowed to proceed as they are without political interference from the Biden administration,” Cramer said. “This is not another opportunity to wage war on North Dakota’s energy producers.”

The Dakota Access pipeline was the subject of months of sometimes violent protests in 2016 and 2017 during its construction. The Standing Rock Sioux continued to press legal challenges against the pipeline even after it began carrying oil from North Dakota across South Dakota and Iowa to a shipping point in Illinois in June 2017.

The Obama administration originally rejected permits for the project, and the Corps prepared to conduct a full environmental review. In February 2017, after President Donald Trump took office, the agency scrapped the review and granted permits, concluding that running the pipeline under the Missouri River posed no significant environmental issues. 

Boasberg ordered more review in 2020 because the agency did not adequately consider how an oil spill under the Missouri River might affect Standing Rock’s fishing and hunting rights, or whether it might disproportionately affect the tribal community.

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