Washington, DC – A federal judge ruled this week that owners of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) must halt operations while the government conducts a comprehensive analysis to examine the risk DAPL poses to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. The court decision gave the tribe a hard-fought victory, which has been involved in a fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline since 2016 and was unveiled nationwide.
The ruling ordering the closure of DAPL indicates the last word of a decision reached on March 25 by the same judge. That ruling determined that the US Army Corps of Engineers had violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and ignored the devastating consequences of a possible oil spill when I ratified its construction permit in 2016. The court ordered the Corps to reexamine the risks of the pipeline and prepare a full environmental impact statement but left open the question of whether operations of the pipeline would be halted as a legal remedy pending further information. After carefully analyzing the seriousness of the government’s legal violations and the possible impacts on the Tribe and other third parties, today’s decision concluded that it was necessary to close the pipeline.
The closure will remain in place until there is a full environmental review, which typically takes several years, in addition to the issuance of new permits. It may be up to a new administration to make the final decisions on them.
“Today is a historic day for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the many people who have supported us in fighting that pipeline,” said Mike Faith, President of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. “This pipeline should never have been built here. We told them that from the beginning. “
“It took four long years, but today justice has been done at Standing Rock,” said Earthjustice attorney Jan Hasselman, who represents the tribe. “If the events of 2020 have taught us anything, it is that health and justice must be prioritized from the beginning in any decision-making process if we want to avoid a crisis later on.”
In December 2016, the Barack Obama administration denied permits for DAPL to cross the Missouri River and ordered a full environmental impact statement to analyze alternative pipeline routes and impacts on the rights of the tribe’s treaties. However, on his second day in office, Donald Trump reversed that order and ordered that the permits be issued. The construction of the pipeline was completed in June 2017.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe defied court permits and won. The court ruled back then that the environmental analysis had been insufficient because it failed to consider the consequences facing the tribe and ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to redo its work. However, the judge refused to close the pipeline.
The Army Corps then rebuilt its environmental analysis but excluded the tribe from the review process and concluded that its prior analysis had been sufficient, so no change would be required. In response and with the representation of Earthjustice, the tribe returned to court. In a summary judgment motion filed last August, the tribe asked the court to close the pipeline and order the Corps to conduct a full environmental analysis. The court granted the tribe’s request in a ruling of March 25, 2020 but left open the question about the closure of the pipeline for now.
The massive 2016 gathering of tribes and allies defending DAPL’s Standing Rock Sioux Territory captured the world’s attention and attracted international media coverage. It helped lead to a global movement of indigenous resistance to fossil fuel infrastructure projects.