Sioux Tribe Seeks to Stop Bakken Pipeline Project

     WASHINGTON (CN) — The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is seeking to block construction of a 1,000-mile pipeline in North Dakota that it says threatens its culture and promises to foul its waterways and sacred lands.
     The $3.7 billion Dakota Access Pipeline, also known as the Bakken Oil Pipeline, is a 1,134-mile long underground pipeline intended to move crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in Northwest North Dakota, through South Dakota, Iowa and to end in Patoka, Illinois.
     Once completed, the pipeline is expected to have the capacity to move 570,000 gallons of oil a day.
     But in a lawsuit filed July 27, the tribe says the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project will transport the oil through thousands of acres of delicate ecosystem that it depends on, and that the crude will flow immediately beneath Lake Oahe, the community’s major source of fresh drinking water.
     The tribe also contends that “there are numerous significant culturally important sites that have not yet been identified,” in the pipeline’s path.
     IT is asking a federal judge to enjoin the project to protect “cultural resources of significance to the tribe,” and “would also guard archaeological sites that have been identified.”
     The complaint notes that in the past six years there have been two major oil spills in the United States last year’s 50,000-gallon spill into Montana’s Yellowstone River, and the even worse 2010 spill of over a million gallons of crude into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan.
     The tribe maintains that both the Clean Water Act and the River and Harbors Act of 1899 require the Corps to consult with it before continuing the build.
     Instead, the tribe says, the Corps hired non-tribal consultants to conduct cultural surveys and at no time did any member of the tribe have an “opportunity to discuss protocols for cultural surveys, or participate in the surveys that were conducted.”
     “Instead, it was provided copies of partial surveys after they were completed,” the complaint states.
     Although the Clean Water Act “prohibits discharge of any pollutant, including dredge spoil or other fill material,” the act also says that certain amounts of pollution are legal so long as it is authorized by a permit.
     The permits, which are valid only five years after issued, also authorize the Corps to “cause only minimal adverse environmental effects … and minimal cumulative adverse effect on the environment.”
     How “minimal” the effects may be is at the crux of the tribe’s complaint. In 2012, the Corps issued over 45 “nationwide permits” to build the pipeline which “in most cases authorize discharge into regulated waters.”
     “Such permits are issued after a review, involving, among other things, site specific documentation and analysis, public notice and opportunity for a hearing, public interest analysis and formal determination,” the complaint explained.
     RHA protections also clearly stipulate that the Corps “must determine whether the use or occupation will be injurious to the public interest or impair the usefulness of the project.”
     Putting aside concerns of massive potential environmental degradation, the tribe also claims the Corps violates the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) which ensures that groups like the Sioux are provided with “reasonable opportunity to identify its concerns about historic properties.”
     For the Sioux, the historic preservation protections, the complaint states, should force the corps to consult with any Indian tribe “that might attach religious and cultural significance to properties within the area of potential effects.”
     The complaint says “if the agency determines that no historic properties will be affected by the undertaking, it must,” at the least, “provide notice of such finding to the state and tribal historic preservation offices.”
     The Corps determined through its own findings that the pipeline would have “no effect.”
     The tribe assert that corps made this determination by adopting only partial procedures which ultimately satisfy mere portions of their legal obligations. The tribe also suggests the Corps cherry-picked information about the land and waterways to support the conclusion it wanted.
     The tribe wants the court to declare the Corps’ actions “arbitrary” and “capricious,” and in violation of the federal environmental and heritage protect laws. It also wants all the discharge permits issued for the project to be declared null and void.
     It is represented by Patti Goldman and Jan Hasselman of Earthjustice in Seattle, Washington.
     A representative of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could not immediately be reached by phone on Friday.

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