September 9, 2016

Tribes Prevail In North Dakota Pipeline Fight—For Now

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A protest at North Dakota state capitol against the Dakota Access Pipeline on September 7, 2016.

Amy Sisk/Inside Energy

A protest at North Dakota state capitol against the Dakota Access Pipeline on September 7, 2016.

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Construction on key parts of the controversial Dakota Access pipeline is on hold after the federal government stepped in Friday. The decision is a victory for the thousands of people who have gathered in North Dakota in recent weeks to protest the $3.7 billion pipeline.

Dakota Access is a 1,200-mile pipeline that could transport more than 500,000 barrels of crude oil a day from the Bakken to Illinois. Its planned route passes just north of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota and the Standing Rock Sioux tribe is concerned a break in the pipeline would contaminate its water supply, and that the pipeline’s route crosses sacred sites.

The decision by the Justice Department and Army Corps of Engineers to halt construction of the pipeline on federal lands surrounding the Missouri River came just minutes after a federal judge declined to do that same.

The Standing Rock tribe had filed a request in federal court for an injunction to stop construction on the pipeline while legal questions over its permit are resolved, but judge James Boasberg ruled against the tribe, saying he didn’t see evidence any laws were broken when the Army Corps issued permits for the pipeline.

The government’s surprise announcement said the tribes had raised important issues “regarding the Dakota Access pipeline specifically, and pipeline-related decision-making generally.” The agencies said they would initiate government-to-government consultation this fall with tribal leaders about the need for nationwide reforms to the infrastructure permitting process.

The government’s decision was met with praise and surprise by tribal leaders. Standing Rock Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault called it a “win for all Indians” during a press conference, and the tribe put out a press statement calling it a “game changer.”

Hundreds of people who had gathered on the lawn of the capitol in Bismarck to protest the pipeline instead sang, danced and chanted in celebration of the news.

The tribe says it will continue to pursue legal action against the pipeline.

This is a breaking news story. Please check back for updates.