Appeals Court Lifts Blockade on Dakota Access Pipeline Work

Law enforcement and protesters clash near the site of the Dakota Access pipeline on Nov. 20, 2016, in Cannon Ball, N.D. (Photo courtesy of Morton County Sheriff’s Department)

WASHINGTON (CN) — The D.C. Circuit intervened Wednesday against a ruling that would have shut down the Dakota Access pipeline, putting injunctive relief on hold while the government appeals.

“The district court did not make the findings necessary for injunctive relief,” a three-judge appellate panel said this afternoon.

In a boon for the tribes that brought the suit, however, the appeals court said it would not disturb the finding that the Army Corps of Engineers needed to conduct an environmental review before authorizing the pipeline to cross the Missouri River.

“Appellants have failed to make a strong showing of likely success on their claims that the district court erred in directing the corps to prepare an environmental impact statement … or that the district court abused its discretion in refusing to remand without vacatur pending the statement’s completion,” the unsigned order states.

“We’ve been in this legal battle for four years and we aren’t giving up this fight,” Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Mike Faith said in a statement Wednesday. “As the environmental review process gets underway in the months ahead, we look forward to showing why the Dakota Access Pipeline is too dangerous to operate.”

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe first sued over the 1,172-mile pipeline in 2016, saying construction would damage sites of culture significance and the surrounding environment.

To their alarm, and those of environment advocates, however, President Donald Trump moved to expedite the pipeline soon after he took office.

Dakota Access, which is building the pipeline, argues that halting construction will lead to job losses and deep economic harms, including $7.5 billion to the North Dakota government, state businesses and workers.

“Thousands would be unemployed, with serious damage to national security and an already struggling national economy,” Dakota Access said in a July 10 application to the appeals court for an emergency stay of the injunction issued by U.S. District Judge James Boasberg.

But Standing Rock and other tribes argued in their opposition brief that these potential harms are overstated.

“Temporarily shutting down the pipeline means that it will be marginally more expensive for some producers to ship out of North Dakota — nothing more,” the tribes wrote on July 20. “On the other side of the balancing, continued operation of the pipeline exposes the tribes to catastrophic risks that have never been properly examined as the law requires and compounds a history of government-sponsored dispossession of tribal lands and resources.”

The D.C. Circuit has not yet set a date for arguments, noting that the last of the parties’ briefs are due Sept. 30.

The issue of the environmental impact statement will return to Judge Boasberg for resolution as the Trump administration decides whether the pipeline can continue to operate.

The tribes are represented by Earthjustice in Seattle.

A spokesperson for Energy Transfer, which is involved in the operation of the pipeline, said the company looks forward to the legal process continuing.

The Army Corps of Engineers also did not immediately return a request for comment on the decision.

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