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Judge orders Dakota Access pipeline shut down pending review

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — A judge on Monday ordered the Dakota Access pipeline shut down for additional environmental review more than three years after it began pumping oil — handing a victory to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and delivering a blow to President Donald Trump’s efforts to weaken public health and environmental protections his administration views as obstacles to businesses.

In a 24-page order, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg in Washington, D.C., wrote that he was “mindful of the disruption” that shutting down the pipeline would cause, but that it must be done within 30 days. Pipeline owner Energy Transfer plans to ask a court to halt the order and will seek an expedited appeal, spokeswoman Vicki Granado said.

The order comes after Boesberg said in April that a more extensive review was necessary than what the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers already conducted and that he would consider whether the pipeline should be shuttered during the new assessment.

“The Court does not reach its decision with blithe disregard for the lives it will affect,” Boasberg wrote Monday.

“Yet, given the seriousness of the Corps’ NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) error, the impossibility of a simple fix, the fact that Dakota Access did assume much of its economic risk knowingly, and the potential harm each day the pipeline operates, the Court is forced to conclude that the flow of oil must cease,” he added.

The findings may challenge the legal footing for the Trump administration’s most momentous environmental rollbacks. Trump surrounded himself with industry leaders and workers in hard hats this January when he announced plans to overhaul the rules for enforcing NEPA.

The Dakota Access pipeline was the subject of months of protests in 2016 and 2017, sometimes violent, during its construction near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation that straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border. The tribe pressed litigation against the pipeline even after it began carrying oil from North Dakota across South Dakota and Iowa and to a shipping point in Illinois in June 2017.

The $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile pipeline crosses beneath the Missouri River, just north of the reservation. The tribe draws its water from the river and fears pollution.

“This pipeline should have never been built here. We told them that from the beginning,” Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Mike Faith said in a statement.

Texas-based Energy Transfer contends proper procedures were followed in granting the original easement for the pipeline, Granado said.

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