Builder of pipe­line asks judge to reject tribes’ suit

Austin American-Statesman - - MORE OF TODAY’S TOP NEWS - By Blake Nicholson

The com­pany build­ing the Dakota Ac­cess pipe­line has asked a fed­eral judge to reject the lat­est at­tempt by two Amer­i­can In­dian tribes to halt the proj- ect, with oil likely to be­gin flow­ing early next week.

Texas-based En­ergy Trans- fer Part­ners ar­gues in court doc­u­ments filed Mon­day that it has en­dured enough de­lays and that the Stand­ing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes are em­ploy­ing “a last­gasp lit­i­ga­tion tac­tic.”

The tribes have ap­pealed a de­ci­sion by U.S. Dis­trict Judge James Boas­berg to not stop con­struc­tion of the pipe- line’s fi­nal seg­ment un­der Lake Oahe, a Mis­souri River reser­voir in North Dakota from which they get their wa­ter. They’ve asked Boas­berg to head off the immi- nent flow of oil through the four-state pipe­line un­til the ap­peal is re­solved.

The tribes main­tain that an oil pipe­line un­der the lake they con­sider sa­cred vi­o­lates their right to prac­tice their re­li­gion.

In its re­sponse, ETP ar­gues that the tribes’ re­li­gion-based ar­gu­ment is flawed and that they in­tro­duced it too late in the le­gal process.

“The tribe fails to ex­plain how the added ‘bur­den’ of a pipe­line that crosses this part of the Mis­souri River could it­self pro­duce ir­repara­ble harm to the pu­rity of Lake Oahe’s waters when so many other oil pipe­lines, gas pipe- lines, re­finer­ies, power lines, rail­road tracks and other man-made in­tru­sions have bur­dened the same waters for so long,” com­pany at­tor­ney Wil­liam Scher­man wrote.

The tribes ini­tially sued over the project last sum­mer, ar­gu­ing that it threat­ens cul­tural sites and their wa­ter sup­ply. Those claims are not yet re­solved. The tribes added the re­li­gion ar­gu­ment last month.

In his de­ci­sion last week, Boas­berg said the tribes didn’t raise the re­li­gion ar­gu­ment in a timely fash­ion and he ques­tioned its mer­its. The tribes are ap­peal­ing his rea­son­ing to the U.S. Court of Ap­peals for the Dis­trict of Columbia Cir­cuit and say that if oil flows be­fore the ap­peal is re­solved, they will lose any chance to de­fend their free ex­er­cise of re­li­gion.

In court doc­u­ments, ETP said the hole un­der the lake is nearly fin­ished, and crews an­tic­i­pate pulling pipe through this week and do­ing fi­nal test­ing.

“As a re­sult, Dakota Ac­cess projects that oil may be in­tro­duced in this part of the line be­tween Mon­day, March 20, 2017 and Wed­nes­day, March 22, 2017, depend­ing on the suc­cess of the test­ing,” Scher­man wrote.

The pipe­line will carry North Dakota oil through South Dakota and Iowa to a ship­ping point in Illi­nois, 1,200 miles away.

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