The Dakota Access Pipeline Shutdown Is a Huge Win for Native American Tribes and Environmentalists

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Photo: Getty Images / JIM WATSON / Staff
The Dakota Access Pipeline must be shut down to allow for an environmental impact study and be emptied of oil in 30 days, a district judge ruled Monday. The ruling arrives after years of opposition from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other Native American tribes who live in close proximity to the pipeline as well as environmentalist groups. An appeal is expected, but many consider the shutdown worthy of celebration.

"Today is a historic day for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the many people who have supported us in the fight against the pipeline,” said Mike Faith, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, in a statement. “This pipeline should have never been built here. We told them that from the beginning."

District Judge James E. Boasberg ruled in March that the pipeline must be shut down to undergo an environmental review.

“This pipeline should have never been built here. We told them that from the beginning." —Mike Faith, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe

"Following multiple twists and turns in this long-running litigation, this Court recently found that Defendant U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had violated the National Environmental Policy Act when it granted an easement to Defendant-Intervenor Dakota Access, LLC to construct and operate a segment of that crude-oil pipeline running beneath the lake," wrote Judge Boasberg. "This was because the Corps had failed to produce an Environmental Impact Statement despite conditions that triggered such a requirement."

Monday's ruling states that the pipeline must be emptied of oil while the tests are completed.

"The Court does not reach its decision with blithe disregard for the lives it will affect," Boasberg wrote. "It readily acknowledges that, even with the currently low demand for oil, shutting down the pipeline will cause significant disruption to [Dakota Access Pipeline], the North Dakota oil industry, and potentially other states. Yet, given the seriousness of the Corps’ [National Environmental Policy Act] error, the impossibility of a simple fix, the fact that Dakota Access did assume much of its economic risk knowingly, and the potential harm each day the pipeline operates, the Court is forced to conclude that the flow of oil must cease.”

This pipeline has been at the center of controversy when the Trump administration gave it the greenlight in 2017. Members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe argued that if the pipeline leaked it could pollute the Missouri River, which is their main source of water for fishing, drinking, and religious ceremonies. In its first few months of operation, the Dakota Access Pipeline leaked five times.

Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company of the pipeline project, said in a statement that they intend to immediately file a motion to stay this decision and if not granted, will then pursue a stay and expedited appeal with the Court of Appeals.

"We believe that the ruling issued this morning from Judge Boasberg is not supported by the law or the facts of the case," the statement reads. Furthermore, we believe that Judge Boasberg has exceeded his authority in ordering the shutdown of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which has been safely operating for more than three years. We will be immediately pursuing all available legal and administrative processes and are confident that once the law and full record are fully considered Dakota Access Pipeline will not be shut down and that oil will continue to flow."

If an appeal is granted, oil could continue to flow during the environmental review process. And even if Judge Boasberg's ruling remains intact, oil flow could resume after the Army Corps of Engineers produces an Environmental Impact Statement, a task they say will take 13 months.

Still, Jan Hasselman, JD, an attorney who represents the Sioux Standing Rock tribe, considers today's ruling a win.

“It took four long years, but today justice has been served at Standing Rock,” says Hasselman, who staff attorney at nonprofit environmental law organization Earthjustice, in a statement. “If the events of 2020 have taught us anything, it’s that health and justice must be prioritized early on in any decision-making process if we want to avoid a crisis later on.”

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