By Devin Henry – 09/09/16
The Obama administration said it would not authorize construction on a critical stretch of the Dakota Access pipeline, handing a significant victory to the Indian tribe fighting the project the same day the group lost a court battle.
The administration said construction would halt until it can do more environmental assessments.
The Department of Justice, the Army and the Interior Department jointly announced that construction would pause on the pipeline near North Dakota’s Lake Oahe, a major water source on the Missouri River for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
The agencies will now decide whether they need to reconsider permitting decisions for the pipeline under the National Environmental Policy Act.
“The Army will move expeditiously to make this determination, as everyone involved — including the pipeline company and its workers — deserves a clear and timely resolution,” the agencies said in a statement. “In the interim, we request that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe.”
The Lake Oahe crossing was a major concern for the tribe, which worries about the impact a leak in the pipeline would have on the lake.
A federal judge Friday denied the tribe’s request to halt construction on the 1,170-mile pipeline. The administration’s decision came shortly after that decision.
The tribe had sued over the Army Corps’ approval of the project under a historic preservation law, but the judge ruled that regulators had acted properly when issuing permitting for the project.
Despite the ruling, the agencies said, “important issues raised by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other tribal nations and their members regarding the Dakota Access pipeline specifically, and pipeline-related decision-making generally, remain.”
The Army Corps has permitted pipeline construction near Lake Oahe. But, as of last month, federal agencies had not yet issued the easements necessary for construction to begin there.
Dave Archambault II, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, hailed the decision, and vowed to continue fighting against the project.
“I want to take a moment and reflect on this historic moment in Indian Country,” Archambault said in a statement. “But I know that our work is not done. We need to to permanently protect our sacred sites and our water. There are areas on the construction route that do not fall within federal jurisdiction, so we will continue to fight.”
Dakota Access developers had no comment on the decision, but the Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now, a group supporting the pipeline, said it was “deeply troubling and could have a long-lasting chilling effect on private infrastructure development in the United States.”
“This is a historic, unprecedented, and overdue move by the Administration that is reflective of the brave and principled stand by the Standing Rock Sioux,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement.
“The Tribe has stood up to combat the oppression and injustice they and Native Americans throughout our country have faced for generations, and the administration was right to recognize it.”