Indigenous Peoples

Dakota Access Pipeline, a victory for the Sioux tribe as court revokes permits

A federal court in Washington, D.C. has struck down the Dakota Access Pipeline, following years of campaigning by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.

The future of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) has been called into question. On the 25th of March a federal court in the District of Columbia ruled to revoke the oil pipeline’s permits, ordering a full environmental review. The Guardian expects this review will require months, if not years, of work: this is an unexpected and resounding victory for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe of North Dakota, who have been fighting the DAPL project since 2016, gathering endorsements and support from all over the world.

standing rock sioux, washington dc
A protest organised by the Standing Rock Sioux in Washington D.C. © Alex Wong/Getty Images

Dakota Access Pipeline, an anti-environmental project

The court ruled that the project violates the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a piece of legislation that, unsurprisingly, has been criticised by US President Donald Trump in the past. Judge James Boasberg found that the way the pipeline has been built has had a negative impact on the Standing Rock reservation, those territory is in both North and South Dakota. It also violates principles enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including the right to health, water and means of sustenance. Through this ruling, the judge has effectively recognised the reservation as a sacred place for Native American culture and traditional practices.

“After years of commitment to defending our water and Earth, we welcome this news of a significant legal win,” tribal chairman Mike Faith stated. In December 2016, the Obama administration had rejected plans for the pipeline, ordering an environmental assessment and an evaluation of its impact on tribal rights. However, Trump reinstated the project within a week of entering office, and even accelerated its construction. This led to the almost 2,000 kilometres of oil pipeline being completed in June 2017.

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But the Standing Rock Sioux decided not to give up, and filed a lawsuit, as the pipeline kept carrying oil from North Dakota to Illinois, with no consideration for indigenous people’s concerns or analyses by experts. The tribes along its course had no choice but to take the matter to court, with the help of EarthJustice, a nonprofit public interest environmental law organisation.

The pipeline was shut down for years

With this last ruling, the court has ordered the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the branch of the Army responsible for planning the pipeline, to undertake a new environmental impact assessment, noting that those presented previously have been seriously lacking. The ruling also notes that the pipeline’s parent company Sunoco “doesn’t inspire confidence”. Because of this, experts say a new, more in-depth assessment could take years to be put forward. And if the results are negative, this would lead to the pipeline’s closure. “This validates everything the tribe has been saying all along about the risk of oil spills to the people of Standing Rock,” EarthJustice attorney Jan Hasselman points out. “The Obama administration had it right when it moved to deny the permits in 2016.”

standing rock sioux, protest
A tent put up by demonstrators in Washington as part of the protest © Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The halting of the pipeline’s activity comes at a time in which the Trump administration is moving to drastically curtail NEPA’s powers. The legislation has been a cornerstone of environmental protection in the United States since 1969. Trump wants to give the go-ahead to fossil fuel extraction, ignoring its environmental consequences as well as people’s right to health, just like with DAPL.

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