In case you missed it, a recent decision in the legal saga of the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) will keep the oil flowing while an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is done over the next nine months — and the courts have essentially stepped away from responsibility to shut operations down. Sadly, in his latest opinion, D.C. Judge James Boasberg has basically stated that his hands are tied by a higher court ruling.
As a reminder to you about what got us here, Boasberg (an Obama appointee) ruled last July to vacate federal permits for Dakota Access. He reasoned then that the Army Corps of Engineers failed to conduct a full EIS, as demanded in a lawsuit filed by the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes. Then, in August, an appeals court affirmed Boasberg’s decision to invalidate the permit, while simultaneously overturning his decision to empty the pipeline. DAPL has been operating unpermitted ever since — a completely unheard-of scenario, and a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Boasberg has since been essentially asking the Corps to make a political decision on whether it’s acceptable for this pipeline to operate without a valid permit on federal land. So far, the Corps (an executive branch agency now under president Biden’s leadership) has shown no desire to do the right thing. Rather than issuing an order to halt operations until proper environmental review is complete, Biden and the Corps are ducking responsibility.
Our legal analysis is that there’s still a potential path forward in the courts. At this stage, the tribes could go directly after the Army Corps under the Administrative Procedures Act. This could lead to a court-order forcing Biden and the Corps to make a decision on whether to continue allowing DAPL’s operation in violation of NEPA.
Lakota Law, its supporters, and a host of like-minded organizations and allies continue to ask Biden to step up and shut DAPL down. We’ll continue to closely examine all the legal and political angles, assessing potential leverage points to push the Corps. Stay tuned.
Wopila tanka — thank you, always, for standing with Standing Rock!
Chase Iron Eyes
Co-Director & Lead Counsel
The Lakota People’s Law Project