Judge Denies Motion to Halt Construction of Dakota Access Pipeline, But Federal Agencies Overrule Decision

By Yessenia Funes Sep 09, 2016

United States District Court Judge James Boasberg denied a motion to halt the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline today (September 9). However, three federal agencies—the Department of Justice, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior—have requested that Energy Transfer, the company behind the pipeline, hold off on construction until the Army can "determine whether it will need to reconsider any of its previous decisions regarding the Lake Oahe site under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or other federal laws."

While Boasberg ruled that the "Tribe has not demonstrated that an injunction is warranted here," the federal government is essentially overturning the judge’s decision. From a joint statment issued this afternoon:

We appreciate the District Court’s opinion on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act. However, important issues raised by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other tribal nations and their members regarding the Dakota Access pipeline specifically, and pipeline-related decision-making generally, remain. Therefore, the Department of the Army, the Department of Justice, and the Department of the Interior will take the following steps.

The Army will not authorize constructing the Dakota Access pipeline on Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe until it can determine whether it will need to reconsider any of its previous decisions regarding the Lake Oahe site under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or other federal laws. Therefore, construction of the pipeline on Army Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe will not go forward at this time. The Army will move expeditiously to make this determination, as everyone involved—including the pipeline company and its workers—deserves a clear and timely resolution.  In the interim, we request that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe.

The agencies also said that they will meet with Natives to rethink the way these types of projects are approved:

Furthermore, this case has highlighted the need for a serious discussion on whether there should be nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes’ views on these types of infrastructure projects. Therefore, this fall, we will invite tribes to formal, government-to-government consultations on two questions: (1) within the existing statutory framework, what should the federal government do to better ensure meaningful tribal input into infrastructure-related reviews and decisions and the protection of tribal lands, resources and treaty rights; and (2) should new legislation be proposed to Congress to alter that statutory framework and promote those goals.

The tribe filed a lawsuit against the Corps on July 27, alleging that the organization granted permits to Energy Transfer that violated several laws and put their health and land at risk. A status conference between the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been scheduled for September 16 to inform the court how the case will proceed.

"Regardless of the court’s decision today, we will continue to be united and peaceful in our opposition to the pipeline,” Dave Archambault II, chairman of Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, said in a statement issued before both the court’s decision and the federal joint statement were announced.

In anticipation of the ruling, Oceti Sakowin youth met at the North Dakota State Capitol in Bismarck to hold a peace rally and run in protest of the pipeline. Many of these young runners also ran from North Dakota to Washington, D.C., in July and August 2016 to deliver a petition requesting that the construction end.

This news comes amid growing tension at the camps and construction sites where “protectors,” the term the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and its allies prefer to “protestors,” are stationed. The state deployed about a dozen armed National Guard military personnel yesterday (September 8) to monitor “traffic information points” on Highway 1806, north of the camps, according to the Grand Forks Herald. They are not expected to enter the camps. The Bismarck Tribune is reports that the highway is now closed due to horses and protectors marching on the road.


But tension isn’t the only thing growing. So is support: Yesterday, Senator Bernie Sanders introduced an amendment to the Water Resources Development Act that, if passed, would require that a full environmental impact study be conducted for the Lake Oahe crossing of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Though Sanders and Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein have come out against the pipeline, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump have remained silent.

President Barack Obama previously vetoed the Keystone XL Pipeline bill in February 2015, which halted the pipeline’s approval. The Dakota Access Pipeline has been compared to the Keystone XL Pipeline as they’re similar in length and width though the Keystone would have been able to ship more barrels of oil a day. Keystone XL was also a major battle point for Native Americans, as it was also set to cross Native lands and waters.