The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Just Won a Major Court Victory Over the Dakota Access Pipeline

This sign from the peak of the protests in 2016 says what we all hope for.

This sign from the peak of the protests in 2016 says what we all hope for.
Photo: Getty

A federal court ruled Wednesday that it is controversial Dakota Access Pipeline was built in violation of major environmental laws. To that end, the Army Corps of Engineers will need to make a full environmental impact statement for the 1,172-mile crude oil pipeline. That’s what the Standing Rock Sioux tribe has always wanted. And finally, the tribe secured it.

This court decision has been in the making for years. First the trunk archived the lawsuit in 2016 at the height of the fight against the pipeline and developer Energy Transfer. There was a bit of hope when President Barack Obama was in the White House when the corps planned to make a full environmental impact statement, which would at least delay the project. Then the 2016 election happened, bringing Donald Trump to power. He almost straight away steamed environmental regulations to accelerate Dakota Access Pipeline construction. But all the while, the case continued to go to court.

Officially in operation with the pipeline –and even looking for expansion– some might have assumed the battle was long over. But it wasn’t, and the tribe took a big win with the last statement. U.S. district judge James Boasberg has stripped the project of its federal permits, citing expert criticism of the pipeline’s leak detection systems, poor energy transfer safety record, and worst-case scenarios. According to his 42-page statement, the approval of the project was “very controversial” under the National Environmental Policy Act (which the Trump administration is attempting weaken).

“This confirms everything the tribe has said about the risk of oil spills to the people of Standing Rock all along,” said Earth Lawyer Jan Hasselman. in a statement.

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As for the pipeline itself, both parties will now have to issue instructions to the court in their respective cases. That means there is a chance that the Dakota Access Pipeline will actually stop pumping oil. And an environmental impact statement can be made years. Previously, the force had only submitted an environmental assessment for the project. The environmental impact statement will go much deeper. It should help to address some of the concerns Boasberg has expressed in his opinion:

The Court recognizes that projects of this size are not difficult for an opponent to find errors in the many conclusions an operator has drawn and on which the service has relied. But here there are significantly more than a few isolated comments that give rise to insubstantial concerns. The many commentators in this case pointed to serious gaps in crucial parts of the corps analysis – to name just a few, that the pipeline’s leak detection system probably wouldn’t work, that it wasn’t designed to catch slow leaks that the operator was serious, the history of incidents had not been taken into account and that the worst case scenario used by the corps may have been only a fraction of what would be a realistic figure – and the corps was unable to to fill.

The case is not over yet, but this is a great victory for the indigenous groups seeking to acknowledge their environmental concerns and sovereignty over their land. During these dark times, this is something to celebrate.

“After years of commitment to defending our water and our earth, we welcome this news of a major legal victory,” said Mike Faith, chairman of Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, in a statement. “It is humble to see how actions we took four years ago to protect our ancestral homeland continue to inspire national talks about how our choices ultimately affect this planet. Perhaps after this court ruling, the federal government will also begin to start, by actually listening to us when we express our concern. “


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