On June 14, a federal judge put a temporary block on the use of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline by stating that the Army Corps of Engineers needs to reconsider some of its environmental impact studies.
U.S. district judge James Boasberg said that the corps had failed to take into account the level to which a spill might affect “fishing rights, hunting rights, or environmental justice, or the degree to which the pipeline’s effects are likely to be highly controversial.”
Boasberg had previously rejected two of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s appeals—one based on the fact that construction threatened sites of historical and cultural significance to the tribe, and the other that oil in the pipeline under Lake Oahe would damage sacred waters.
“Now that the court has rejected these two lines of attack, Standing Rock and Cheyenne River here take their third shot, this time zeroing in on DAPL’s environmental impact,” Boasberg wrote in his decision. “This volley meets with some degree of success.”
The judge wrote that while the Army Corps of Engineers had “substantially complied” with the National Environmental Policy Act, federal permits issued for the pipeline were in violation of the law in certain ways. “To remedy those violations, the Corps will have to reconsider those sections of its environmental analysis upon remand by the Court,” Boasberg wrote.
Later on, the judge will consider whether the pipeline must halt operations while the additional research is being conducted. A status conference is scheduled for the week of June 19.
Whether the pipeline is shut during the review or not depends on whether the omissions in the Corps’ analysis can be addressed quickly, or whether they’re large errors that might require more study.
“We applaud the courts for protecting our laws and regulations from undue political influence, and we will ask the Court to shut down pipeline operations immediately,” Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault said in a statement.
Just days after being sworn in, President Trump issued an executive order directing the Corps to do whatever it needed to do to get the pipeline construction underway. In February, the Corps granted the final easement needed to finish the pipeline.
This decision marks “an important turning point,” said Jan Hasselman, attorney for Earthjustice, which is representing the tribes in the lawsuit. “Until now, the rights of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe have been disregarded by the builders of the Dakota Access pipeline and the Trump administration…prompting a well-deserved global outcry.”
Although the protests by the Standing Rock tribe and its allies were effectively over in February, when the main encampment was cleared and the pipeline completed, this decision by Judge Boasberg shows that the struggle for justice—both for the environment and for the tribe—is not over yet.