WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., has dealt a loss to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and its fight to block construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
In a decision issued Sunday, Oct. 9, a three-judge panel denied a motion requesting that work on the $3.8 billion pipeline be stopped in places where, the tribe says, the project will desecrate sacred land.
The decision means that construction can continue up to Lake Oahe on the Missouri River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers still must approve an easement allowing the pipeline to run under the river. The group of firms building the pipeline, led by Energy Transfer Partners, needs that final permission in order to complete the project, which is due for delivery on Jan. 1, according to court records.
“The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is not backing down from this fight,” said Dave Archambault II, Chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. “We are guided by prayer, and we will continue to fight for our people. We will not rest until our lands, people, waters and sacred places are permanently protected from this destructive pipeline.”
Last week, an attorney for the pipeline company said under questioning from the judges that if the court allowed it, the company would continue building up to the lake’s edge even before the easement decision, because each extra month of delay will cost the company more than $80 million.
On Sept. 9, a federal judge rejected the tribe’s request for an emergency injunction to halt pipeline construction – a decision that led the tribe to appeal.
The same day, pipeline opponents celebrated when the Corps said it would not authorize pipeline work on Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe until it can determine whether it will need to reconsider any of its previous decisions regarding the site under the National Environmental Policy Act or other federal laws. The Corps also requested that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe.
“The federal government recognizes what is at stake and has asked DAPL to halt construction,” Archambault said. “We hope that they will comply with that request.”
The ruling “confirms that the pipeline company … and the others involved this pipeline have done what they need to do to move the project forward,” said Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. “I look forward to the workers getting back to work, doing the jobs they need to do Monday morning. Hopefully they can do it free from harassment and free from a threat of violence.”
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp said the decision does not “deliver the finality or the safety they deserve.”
“That’s why I’ve been pressing the Army Corps of Engineers to make a decision determining the course of the pipeline while pushing for federal law enforcement resources our officers need to keep the peace on the ground,” the North Dakota Democrat said. “As a harsh North Dakota winter approaches and tensions continue to rise, protecting protesters, workers, and surrounding communities will be crucial -- and I’ll keep working to secure the resources and the certainty they need to stay safe.”
The pipeline stands to help support a larger issue -- supporting energy infrastructure -- said Sen. John Hoeven.
“Industry needs legal and regulatory certainty to make the kinds of enormous investments required to build it,” he said. “Pipelines, transmission lines, rail and roads are all necessary to safely transport both the renewable and traditional energy our country needs.”
Reuters Media contributed to this report.