Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Gains Ground in Dakota Access Court Case

By Yessenia Funes Jun 15, 2017

The Dakota Access Pipeline may be flowing with oil, but that doesn’t mean that its opponents have given up. They had a victory last night (June 14*) in a court case that’s been ongoing since July 27, 2016, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

A federal judge ruled that the Trump Administration’s quick permit issuance for the pipeline in February violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by not properly considering the impact the 1,172-mile long pipeline would have if it leaked. Judge James Boasberg went on to explain that the water crossing on the Lake Oahe portion of the Missouri River (the main area of concern for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe) did warrant an environmental impact statement, which the Army Corps of Engineers did not issue per the administration’s request.

Boasberg is requiring that the Corps re-examine its environmental analysis. In his 91-page opinion, he did not call on the pipeline to shut down, but he did request additional briefing to discuss that possibility at a status conference next week.

“This is a major victory for the tribe, and we commend the courts for upholding the law and doing the right thing,” said Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II in a statement sent in an email from Earthjustice, the environmental law firm defending this case. “The previous administration painstakingly considered the impacts of this pipeline and President [Donald] Trump hastily dismissed these careful environmental considerations in favor of political and personal interests. We applaud the courts for protecting our laws and regulations from undue political influence and will ask the Court to shut down pipeline operations immediately.”

Tribes challenging the pipeline, including the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, have attempted to stop the pipeline through other lawsuits, but this one has proven most successful—something Boasberg notes. The other two cases attempted to make cases on religious and cultural grounds, but it’s the pipeline’s environmental impact that piqued Boasberg’s interest.

“Although the Corps substantially complied with NEPA in many areas, the Court agrees that it did not adequately consider the impacts of an oil spill on fishing rights, hunting rights or environmental justice, or the degree to which the pipeline’s effects are likely to be highly controversial,” he writes.

And the impact has been quite controversial: The pipeline has already had three spills.


*This post has been updated to reflect the correct date of June 14, not June 15.