The Army Corps said it hasn’t decided whether to shut down the pipeline during an environmental review, pushing the decision back to a federal judge and keeping the pipeline flowing — for now.
WASHINGTON (CN) — On Friday, the Army Corps of Engineers told a federal judge that it is still deciding whether to shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline while it conducts an environmental review, even though oil is flowing through the 1,172-mile pipeline without a permit.
Upon hearing the government’s decision — or lack thereof — counsel for the Sioux, Jan Hasselman, told U.S. District Court Judge James E. Boasberg that she was disappointed the Corps is taking the same position as it did under the Trump administration.
“I, too, am a little surprised that this is where things stand 60 days later,” Boasberg, a Barack Obama appointee, replied. “I would have thought there would be a decision one way or another by this point.”
The decision to shut down the pipeline will now fall to Boasberg, who could rule as early as the end of the month. He gave the Corps 10 days to present a case to keep the line flowing.
The decision had already been kicked down the road: Friday’s hearing was initially scheduled for February, but the Corps filed a motion to postpone it so Biden administration officials would have time to familiarize themselves with the case.
Environmentalists and Indian tribes around the nation have fought tooth and nail for five years to stop the flow of oil from North Dakota to Illinois, claiming that the pipeline could contaminate the drinking water of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and would degrade sacred lands.
The legal battle picked up again in January, when a federal appeals court in Washington ordered the Corps to perform a more robust environmental analysis, finding that the agency issued a permit for the pipeline without performing the necessary study on how crude oil running beneath Lake Oahe would impact the area.
The D.C. Circuit reversed the lower court’s decision to shut down the pipeline in the meantime, but since its permit to cross under the lake was thrown out, the pipeline is technically trespassing on federal land — so the appeals court urged the Corps to decide whether it intended to shutter the pipeline.
“It’s sounding as though the Biden administration’s decision here is to do nothing,” Earthjustice attorney Jan Hasselman said in a statement. He has represented Standing Rock in its legal challenge against the Dakota Access Pipeline for about five years.
Hassleman said the pipeline is operating in violation of federal law and will only get more dangerous, as Energy Transfer, the pipeline’s owner, is looking to double its capacity.
“In a meeting with members of Biden’s staff earlier this year, we were told that this new administration wanted to ‘get this right,’” Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Mike Faith said in a statement. “Unfortunately, this reported update from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shows it has chosen to ignore our pleas and stick to the wrong path.”
The decision comes as a relief for the oil and gas industry, which has met stiff opposition from climate advocates and the Biden administration, which revoked key permits for the Keystone XL pipeline and paused new oil and gas leases on federal lands in January.