Judge declines to halt Dakota Access pipeline
A federal judge declined Tuesday to temporarily stop construction of the final section of the disputed Dakota Access oil pipeline, clearing the way for oil to flow as soon as next week.
The Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes pledged to continue their legal fight against the project, even after the pipeline begins operating.
The tribes had asked U.S. District Judge James Boasberg in Washington to direct the Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw permission for Texas-based developer Energy Transfer Partners to lay pipe under Lake Oahe in North Dakota.
The stretch under the Missouri River reservoir in southern North Dakota is the last piece of construction for the $3.8 billion pipeline to move North Dakota oil to Illinois.
The tribes argued that a pipeline under the lake violates their right to prac- tice their religion, which relies on clean water, and they wanted the work suspended until the claim could be resolved.
When they filed their lawsuit last summer, the tribes argued that the pipeline threatens Native American cultural sites and their water supply. Their religion argument was new, however, and disputed by both the Corps and the company.
Boasberg in his ruling Tuesday said the tribes didn’t raise the religion argument in a timely fashion. He also questioned its merit.
“Although the tribe’s mem- bers may feel unable to use the water from Lake Oahe in their religious ceremonies
once the pipeline is oper- ational, there is no specific ban on their religious exer-
cise,” he said. The judge’s decision came as American Indians from across the country gathered in Washington to protest President Donald Trump’s policies encouraging oil pipe- lines. Native Americans are planning four days of activi- ties including lobbying law- makers and culminating in a march on the White House. Tribal members and supporters plan to camp each day on the National Mall, with teepees, a ceremonial fire, cultural workshops and speakers.
“Trump and his friends at Big Oil have not won,” Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault said in response to Boasberg’s ruling, adding that “the bigger legal battle is ahead — we stand strong.”
Standing Rock attorney Jan Hasselman and Cheyenne River attorney Nicole Ducheneaux said they hadn’t decided whether to appeal Boasberg’s ruling. In the meantime, they said, they’ll continue to argue for more environmental study and for the government to recognize the tribe’s treaty rights to clean water.
They don’t expect a court hearing until at least April — long after pipeline operations are expected to begin — but Boasberg “can order the pipeline turned back off, and that’s what we’ll be asking for,” Hasselman said.