Indian Country celebrates as judge orders environmental review of Dakota Access Pipeline
Thursday, June 15, 2017
The fight over the Dakota Access Pipeline is entering a new phase after a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to conduct an environmental review of the controversial project.
In a 91-page decision, Judge James Boasberg said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to consider the impacts of the pipeline on treaty rights and the environment. While the ruling does not stop oil from flowing at this point, the news brought cheers at the National Congress of American Indians on Thursday morning.
“Guess what, the tribes were right,” John Dossett, the organization's top attorney, said as tribal leaders wrapped up their mid-year conference in Connecticut.
Over in North Dakota, the mood was equally joyous. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, with strong support from Indian Country and allies around the world, has long been pushing for a more thorough analysis of the pipeline, whose path runs less than a half-mile north of its reservation.
“This is a major victory for the tribe and we commend the courts for upholding the law and doing the right thing,” Chairman Dave Archambault II said in a statement.
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Wednesday's decision came 13 days after oil started flowing through the pipeline on June 1. President Donald Trump took credit for the getting the project on track and insisted that no one complained about his approval of the final portion near Standing Rock.
“Nobody thought any politician would have the guts to approve that final leg and I just closed my eyes and said 'Do It,'” Trump said during a June 7 speech on infrastructure.
The judge's decision presents an alternate reality. The Army Corps, he wrote, must take a "hard look" at issues raised by the tribe, including how an oil spill impacts rights that were guaranteed to the Sioux Nation through treaties with the United States.
“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,” Boasberg wrote, referring to the National Environmental Policy Act.
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But whether the Trump administration heeds the directive is another story. Boasberg ordered the parties to appear in court on Wednesday, June 21, to discuss, among other issues, a potential “remedy” in the case.
Chairman Archambault was clear about what that means to his people. They will seek to shut down operations of the pipeline “immediately,” he said.
That's something supporters of the project -- mostly Republicans -- don't want to happen. They were upset when the Obama administration repeatedly delayed the final portion of the pipeline but the situation changed after Trump took office on January 20.
“It's hard for me to believe that Judge Boasberg -- who has ruled multiple times in favor of building the pipeline -- that he would now find that an appropriate remedy would be to shut it down after it's already flowing with oil,” Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-North Dakota) told POVNow on Wednesday evening.
Though he cautioned that he hadn't read the entire ruling, Cramer suggested that Congress might try to respond to it. Republicans, in the past, have tried to approve controversial infrastructure projects, like the Keystone XL Pipeline, in order to avoid tribal consultation requirements and other environmental laws.
Tribal leaders and activists have pushed back on those approaches. All federal agencies, including the Army Corps, must consult Indian nations on a government-to-government basis, they argue.
“These projects must include tribes early in the process so the negative impacts to our lands, waters, and sacred places can be avoided,” NCAI President Brian Cladoosby said in a statement on Wednesday. “Environmental justice demands that the rights of tribes are respected.”
The June 21 hearing is scheduled to take place at 2:30pm Eastern at the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C.