On Friday, a federal court sided with Energy Transfer Partners, allowing the company to continue construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline. The ruling came after the Standing Rock Sioux tribe attempted to halt the pipeline’s construction through the justice system because they claimed it would violate federal laws and jeopardize their water supply.
However, the Department of Justice, the Department of the Interior, and the Department of the Army quickly overruled the court’s decision, placing a temporary halt on Dakota Access pipeline construction on Army Corps of Engineering lands.
Their statement says the decision will take effect until the Army “can determine whether it will need to reconsider any of its previous decisions regarding the Lake Oahe site under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or other federal laws.”
The press release continued:
“Therefore, construction of the pipeline on Army Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe will not go forward at this time. The Army will move expeditiously to make this determination, as everyone involved — including the pipeline company and its workers — deserves a clear and timely resolution. In the interim, we request that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe.”
This development comes on the heels of North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple’s decision to activate the state’s National Guard on Thursday, stoking fears that tensions on the ground could grow. Currently, Native American protesters, or “water protectors,” are staging a peaceful blockade against the pipeline’s construction.
The Justice Department statement’s language could be interpreted as a “voluntary” request to the pipeline builders, and it’s unclear whether Energy Transfer Partners will comply with the request.
Meanwhile, opposition on the ground to the Dakota Access pipeline continues to swell as thousands of water protectors continue to stream into the area to join the blockade. At this time it remains unclear how the addition of the National Guard, a flood of reinforcements to the protests, and the Justice Department’s statement will affect tensions on the ground.
As the agencies’ statement surprisingly asserted:
“In recent days, we have seen thousands of demonstrators come together peacefully, with support from scores of sovereign tribal governments, to exercise their First Amendment rights and to voice heartfelt concerns about the environment and historic, sacred sites. It is now incumbent on all of us to develop a path forward that serves the broadest public interest.”
As The New York Times reported,
“Today’s news is a stunning development,” said Jan Hasselman, a lawyer with Earthjustice, an environmental legal group that is representing the Standing Rock Sioux. “It vindicates what the tribe has been saying form the beginning: The process was wrong, and the legal standards for projects like these need reform.”
It was unclear on Friday how long the government-ordered pause in construction around Lake Oahe might last, or whether the move had given the Standing Rock Sioux any greater odds of prevailing. But on Friday morning, tribal members said they had lived on the land for generation upon generation, and were prepared to stay through the fall, the winter and beyond.
“They’ll be here for years,” said Jana Gipp, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux, as she surveyed the camp’s tents and teepees from a grassy bluff. “They won’t give this up.”
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One wonders who was responsible for the rapid rejection of the local judge's decision to allow the pipeline. So close to an election, does the Hillbama administration fear repurcussions from their base if non-white-blue-collar-deplorables see their land torn asunder by government-enabled big oil?