Dakota Access Pipeline Opponents Win A Potentially Major Legal Victory

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In a victory for opponents of the Dakota Access oil pipeline, a judge ruled on Wednesday that the process by which the pipeline was approved had violated the law. The judge will now consider whether to halt the multi-billion dollar project pending further review.


In his 91-page ruling, District Judge James E. Boasberg of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia wrote that the Army Corps of Engineers, which gave final approval for the pipeline’s construction, had not done enough to gauge certain potential environmental risks posed by the project.

“In particular, the Tribes believe that the Corps did not sufficiently consider the pipeline’s environmental effects before granting permits to Dakota Access to construct and operate DAPL under Lake Oahe, a federally regulated waterway,” Judge Boasberg wrote, before concluding:

This [legal] volley meets with some degree of success. 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.


The apparent corners that were cut in the process could stem from President Trump’s order to restart the DAPL project after the Obama administration had halted it. When Trump ordered the Corps to greenlight the pipeline’s construction, he explicitly directed the process to take place in an “expedited manner.”

Judge Boasberg’s decision was met with excitement from activists and community members who have spent years fighting the pipeline’s construction, which they claim threatens the land and water of native peoples.

“Bottom line, we are vindicated,” Chase Iron Eyes, lead counsel for the Lakota People’s Law Project, said in a statement to Fusion. “This is certainly a step in the right direction. While we have yet to perform a detailed analysis of the ruling in full, we know that the judge has, at least partially, validated our peaceful and prayerful resistance to this pipeline. We believe it should be clear that it threatens our only water supply, and thus the well-being of my people and our future generations.”

Boasberg’s ruling does not state whether the pipeline should stop its flow of oil while the Corps works to “reconsider those sections of its environmental analysis.” Instead, the judge wrote, “whether Dakota Access must cease pipeline operations during that remand presents a separate question of the appropriate remedy, which will be the subject of further briefing.”


Nevertheless, Wednesday’s decision is a win for those who have continued to fight against the pipeline, long after the protest camp at Standing Rock was cleared by police.

“We are cautiously optimistic about [Wednesday’s] ruling,” Iron Eyes wrote. “And we’re filled with hope that it will lead to a real, thorough review process that ultimately keeps oil from contaminating and despoiling the home of my people.”

Senior writer. When in doubt he'll have the soup.

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