On June 14, federal judge James Boasberg ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to adequately study the potential environmental consequences of the Dakota Access Pipeline. This was the first legal victory for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in their year-long battle against the pipeline.
However, he did not order the pipeline’s shutdown. Oil began flowing through the pipeline earlier this month. Instead the judge ordered a new set of arguments to justify continuing to operate. But there’s little hope that a new study will alter the outcome of the case.
The pipeline is owned and operated by Energy Transfer Partners. It gained the approval to run the 1,100-mile-long pipeline from the oil fields in North Dakota to a refinery in Illinois since it crossed mostly privately held lands. But in order to be completed, it had to cross the Missouri River, a federal waterway controlled by the U.S. Corps of Army Engineers. The Corps gave its approval this July 2016.
In his 91-page decision, the judge cited the Corps’ study to be deficient in “the study of the impacts of an oil spill on fishing rights, hunting rights, or environmental justice.”
The pipeline became a rallying point for both climate activists and indigenous civil-rights advocates last year. By late October, Standing Rock had become the most high-profile Native protest in the U.S. in four decades.
After the Corps’ approval of the pipeline’s construction in July of 2016, the Obama administration revoked the permit in December and ordered a study to see if the pipeline could be re-routed. However, on his fifth day in office, President Trump reversed this order. Trump celebrated the pipeline last week in Cincinnati.
“The Dakota Access pipeline is now officially open for business,” Trump said. “Nobody thought any politician would have the guts to approve that final leg. And I just closed my eyes and said: Do it.”
Sarah Krakoff, a law professor at the University of Colorado, thinks Boasberg’s decision has implications far beyond this pipeline dispute. “It’s a big deal,” she said. “It’s an important step for a court to recognize that both environmental-justice claims and the failure to adequately analyze Indian treaty rights can be the basis for the reversal of an agency’s environmental analysis.”
Photo: A Standing Rock solidarity rally in Portland, Oregon. Credit: Diego G Diaz / Shutterstock.com