By Michael Sainato
On October 10, a federal court ruled against the Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes, permitting the Dakota Access Pipeline to remain operational as the Army Corps of Engineers completes its environmental review of the pipeline. The decision is another setback in the fight to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline that was emboldened once Trump took office.
“I believe that it is totally inappropriate for Judge Boasberg to have ruled that the Dakota Access pipeline can continue to pump 910 thousand gallons per hour of crude oil beneath the sole source of drinking water for the great Sioux nation,” Danny Sheehan, Lakota People’s Law Project chief counsel, told me in an interview. “His ruling indicates that he is going to grant a major degree of discretion to the Trump administration’s Army Corps of Engineers to disregard the elements of racial discrimination and protection for the Lakota’s hunting and fishing rights. Therefore, the struggle must continue at the appellate level and in the field against these forces that operate in open defiance to the rest of the nations of the world and all people of conscience.”
After historic protests, in December 2016 the Army Corps of Engineers under the Obama Administration blocked the pipeline’s final permits, and ordered a comprehensive environmental review that included a search for alternate routes. Trump overruled that decision, granting the permits, which paved the way for the pipeline to become fully operational in June 2017. The Department of Interior under Trump also removed memos written by Hilary Tompkins, Solicitor of the Interior under Obama. Tompkins noted that the Army Corps of Engineers initially ignored the issue of the Dakota Access Pipeline’s environmental threats posed by its route under Lake Oahe, threatening the drinking water of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. In retaliation to water protectors’ efforts, the Dakota Access Pipeline Company filed a lawsuit in August 2017 against several organizations that helped the Standing Rock Sioux in their fight to stop the pipeline. The groups included GreenPeace and Earth Justice. The lawsuit is an attempt to recoup the money the company lost due to the protests, and inflict financial damage through litigation on the organizations involved. While suing the organizations who opposed them, the Dakota Access Pipeline company has bought off the support of the State of North Dakota through multi-million dollar donations to help them pay off the debt police and emergency responders accrued during the protests.
Water protectors who were arrested during the protests are still pushing to have their charges dropped in North Dakota courts. “42,000 people have signed the petition to #DropDAPLCharges. Many attorneys have worked long hours and 400 of 800-plus charges have been dropped. North Dakota’s judges see that the accusations against water protectors are baseless,” said Chase Iron Eyes, Lakota People’s Law Project lead counsel, in a statement. “In February, I was arrested along with dozens of other water protectors, including HolyElk, a fourth generation Lakota woman activist in the indigenous rights movement who stood tall until the very last day on the front lines at the Oceti Sakowin camp. In two weeks time, our legal team will begin conducting videotaped depositions. And when we walk into the courtroom next year, the evidence we’re compiling will expose injustices perpetrated by the pipeline’s owners and their private, militarized security firm.”
Shortly after the pipeline went fully operational, a federal judge ruled in favor of the Standing Rock tribes, noting that an adequate environmental review was not completed before the permits were granted. The Army Corps of Engineers was ordered to complete their environmental review. A remand process was undertaken to analyze whether the pipeline should be shut down while until that review is completed, but the judge ultimately decided against that option. The Army Corps of Engineers has noted they expect their review to be completed in April 2018. At that point, the court will decide whether a full environmental impact statement is required, which would re-open the opportunity to debate alternative routes for the pipeline.
The Dakota Access Pipeline has experienced three oil spills since Trump took office; it leaked 84 gallons of oil in South Dakota in April 2017, 84 gallons in North Dakota in March 2017, and 20 gallons of oil two days later. An analysis conducted by the Center for Biological Diversity in December 2016 found that oil pipelines in North Dakota leak four times a year, which have spilled 3 million gallons of oil in the past 21 years.