Government Law

US will halt work on oil pipeline opposed by Standing Rock Sioux tribe; judge refused injunction

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Standing Rock Sioux tribe's logo

The federal government announced on Friday that it will halt construction of an oil pipeline near a lake that plays an important role to members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, even though a federal judge said the work can proceed.

The Justice Department and two other federal agencies made the joint announcement shortly after U.S. District Judge James Boasberg ruled (PDF) against the tribe’s request for a preliminary injunction. He found that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had likely complied with federal law in approving permits for the project, which will move crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois. The Washington Post and the Associated Press covered the ruling.

The statement said the Army won’t authorize construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline on land bordering or under Lake Oahe until it reconsiders its permitting decisions for the area.

The tribe had contended that the pipeline, which runs near its reservation in North and South Dakota, will destroy sites of cultural and historical importance. The tribe alleged violation of the National Historic Preservation Act in its application for an injunction.

Boasberg noted that domestic-oil pipelines, unlike natural-gas pipelines, require no general approval from the federal government. In this case, the Dakota Access Pipeline “needs almost no federal permitting of any kind because 99 percent of its route traverses private land,” Boasberg said.

Permitting is required, however, for construction along federally regulated waters along the pipeline route. The tribe contended the Army Corps of Engineers violated federal law in issuing permits for water construction because it failed to consult with the tribes.

Boasberg said the Army Corps of Engineers had notified the tribe before permitting, and had conducted extensive cultural surveys and research. The tribe sought a preliminary injunction in August, but that was too late because much of the work had already been done, the judge said.

Boasberg said 204 sites required preconstruction notice and verification. But “the vast majority must be excluded off the bat,” the judge said, because construction at 193 of those sites has already been completed. At the 11 other sites, “the tribe largely neglects to point to the court to resources that may be affected by permitted activity,” Boasberg said.

Protests over the construction of the pipeline have been ongoing, as recounted by the New York Times and the Bismarck Tribune. In advance of Judge Boasberg’s ruling, David Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, released a statement (PDF) on Thursday.

“We call upon all water protectors to greet any decision with peace and order,” Archambault said. “Even if the outcome of the court’s ruling is not in our favor, we will continue to explore every lawful option and fight against the construction of the pipeline. … We invite all supporters to join us in prayer that, ultimately, the right decision—the moral decision—is made to protect our people, our sacred places, our land and our resources.”

According to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s website, the University of Colorado Law School’s American Indian Law Program “is coordinating legal response for those arrested or injured in the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline.”

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