Federal Judge Says Dakota Access Pipeline Environmental Review Was Inadequate

Washington, DC – Federal judge James Boasberg today partially sided with the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes in their ongoing lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers regarding the approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).

In December 2016, the Army Corps of Engineers suspended approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline’s crossing under Lake Oahe near the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reservation in North Dakota, saying that they needed to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). However once Donald Trump was inaugurated as president, he ordered the Army Corps to approve the pipeline without an EIS, which it promptly did.

Since then, much of the legal battle over the pipeline has focused on whether this expedited approval by the Army Corps without an EIS was improper.

The Dakota Access Pipeline officially began moving oil to market on June 1, 2017, and had at least three oil spills during pre-startup operations.

In today’s ruling, Judge Boasberg found that the Army Corps review of DAPL’s potential impacts to wildlife, hunting and fishing rights, and the environment did not fulfill their obligations under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA).

…Standing Rock and Cheyenne River…seek summary judgment on several counts related to the Corps’ alleged failure to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act. In particular, the Tribes believe that the Corps did not sufficiently consider the pipeline’s environmental effects before granting permits to Dakota Access to construct and operate DAPL under Lake Oahe, a federally regulated waterway.


…Although the Corps substantially complied with NEPA in many areas, the Court agrees that it did not adequately consider the impacts of an oil spill on fishing rights, hunting rights, or environmental justice, or the degree to which the pipeline’s effects are likely to be highly controversial.” – Judge James Boasberg, June 14, 2017

The court’s finding that the Army Corps did not meet their obligations under environmental law means that it is possible (but not certain) that a future court ruling could order Energy Transfer Partners to shut down the pipeline.

To remedy those violations, the Corps will have to reconsider those sections of its environmental analysis upon remand by the Court. Whether Dakota Access must cease pipeline operations during that remand presents a separate question of the appropriate remedy, which will be the subject of further briefing.” – Judge James Boasberg, June 14, 2017

The next court date in the case is a June 21 status conference, and no further rulings are expected before that date.

Standing Rock Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II applauded the ruling:

This is a major victory for the Tribe and we commend the courts for upholding the law and doing the right thing. The previous administration painstakingly considered the impacts of this pipeline, and President Trump hastily dismissed these careful environmental considerations in favor of political and personal interests. We applaud the courts for protecting our laws and regulations from undue political influence and will ask the Court to shut down pipeline operations immediately.” – Dave Archambault II, Tribal Chairman, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe

Jan Hasselman, staff attorney for Earthjustice (an environmental law nonprofit representing the Standing Rock tribe for their DAPL litigation), commented on the historical significance of Judge Boasberg’s decision:

This decision marks an important turning point. Until now, the rights of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe have been disregarded by the builders of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Trump administration—prompting a well-deserved global outcry.  The federal courts have stepped in where our political systems have failed to protect the rights of Native communities.” – Jan Hasselman, Staff Attorney, Earthjustice

You can read the full 91-page ruling below:



by Chris Schiano

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Below is Unicorn Riot's coverage of the #NoDAPL anti-Dakota Access Pipeline struggle from early summer 2016 to present:

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