DC Circuit Pauses Dakota Access Pipeline Shutdown

A where sections of the Dakota Access pipeline were being buried in Morton County, N.D., in 2016. (Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune via AP, File)

WASHINGTON (CN) — The D.C. Circuit granted a request from the Trump administration on Tuesday evening to hold off shutting down the Dakota Access pipeline. 

The federal appeals court granted an administrative stay of U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg’s order to drain the controversial pipeline by Aug. 5. 

The Obama appointee had ruled last week that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to assess the environmental impact of the pipeline before permitting Dakota Access to break ground. 

“Fearing severe environmental consequences, American Indian Tribes on nearby reservations have sought for several years to invalidate federal permits allowing the Dakota Access Pipeline to carry oil under the lake,” Boasberg wrote. “Today they finally achieve that goal — at least for the time being.”

The Justice Department appealed for a temporary block of the order arguing it would cause irreparable harm to the U.S. oil and gas industry.

The stay passed down Tuesday allows the crude oil pipeline stretching from North Dakota to Illinois to remain operational while the three-judge circuit court panel reviews arguments in the case. 

The unsigned order made clear the judges had reached no conclusions as to the merits of the government’s emergency motion for a stay. 

The panel is composed of U.S. Circuit Judge Judith Rogers, a Bill Clinton appointee, U.S. Circuit Judge Thomas Griffith, a George W. Bush appointee, and U.S. Circuit Judge Cornelia Pillard, an Obama appointee. 

In 2017, Boasberg opted not to halt the flow of oil while federal regulators zeroed in on the possible environmental toll of the pipeline, writing three years ago that the dispute at that time had already taken nearly as many twists and turns as the 1,172-mile pipeline. 

In issuing his recent order, the judge acknowledged the sweeping impact of his decision to finally order the closure. 

“The court does not reach its decision with blithe disregard for the lives it will affect,” Boasberg wrote. “It readily acknowledges that, even with the currently low demand for oil, shutting down the pipeline will cause significant disruption.” 

The D.C. Circuit ordered briefs due next week in the legal battle now long-running through the Washington federal courts. 

Last week’s ruling had marked a major victory for Native American tribes, with Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Mike Faith praising it as historic. 

“This pipeline should have never been built here,” Faith said in a July 6 statement. “We told them that from the beginning.”

President Donald Trump had expedited approval for the pipeline just two days after taking office, following a stall by the Obama administration in order to draw up an environmental impact statement. The Army Corps is now drafting a new court-ordered environmental report, expected to be completed by mid-2021.

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