Federal Judge Rules Permits For Dakota Access Pipeline Are Invalid

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The fight to block the Dakota Access pipeline isn’t over. Even though The Donald pushed approval of the pipeline through in the first week of his administration and even though it has been completed and placed in service, a federal judge ruled this week that all the environmental permits for it were granted without adequate review or input from the Indigenous communities impacted by it.

Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
Image credit: Standing Rock Sioux Tribe

In his ruling issued on Wednesday, Judge James Boasberg of the federal district court in Washington, DC said all the federal permits for the pipeline were invalid and ordered the Corps of Engineers to conduct a full environmental review of the pipeline project, according to DeSmog Blog. Such a review could take years to complete. The judge said next he would consider whether the invalidity of the permits means the pipeline should be shut down while the environmental review takes place.

“After years of commitment to defending our water and earth, we welcome this news of a significant legal win,” said Mike Faith, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. “It’s humbling to see how actions we took to defend our ancestral homeland continue to inspire national conversations about how our choices ultimately affect this planet.”

“The many commenters in this case pointed to serious gaps in crucial parts of the Corps’ analysis,” Judge Boasberg wrote in his order. “To name a few, that the pipeline’s leak-detection system was unlikely to work, that it was not designed to catch slow spills, that the operator’s serious history of incidents had not been taken into account, and that the worst case scenario used by the Corps was potentially only a fraction of what a realistic figure would be — and the Corps was not able to fill any of them.”

“In this case, the operator’s history did not inspire confidence,” the judge wrote. “’[Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration] data shows Sunoco has experienced 276 incidents resulting in over $53 million in property damage from 2006-2016,’ which one expert described as ‘one of the lower performing safety records of any operator in the industry for spills and releases.’”

Because the pipeline’s effects were “likely to be highly controversial,” the judge found that federal law — specifically the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) — requires a more thorough environmental review than was done. “In projects of this scope, it is not difficult for an opponent to find fault with many conclusions made by an operator and relied on by the agency,” Judge Boasberg wrote. “But here, there is considerably more than a few isolated comments raising insubstantial concerns.”

“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 said in a statement. “We will continue to see this through until DAPL has finally been shut down.”

What Happens Now?

Most of you know full well what happens next. The pipeline company and the government will appeal. If their appeal is unsuccessful, they will ask for a rehearing by the full appeals court panel. If that doesn’t work, they will ask the Supreme Court to intervene. The court will find for the government and order everyone to get back to work. If Judge Boasberg rules the pipeline must be shut down, all of the above will happen, only much faster and with a welter of idiotic statements by the Tweeter in Chief and Sean Insanity.

The overarching theme to the company’s and the government’s claims will be that the pipeline is essential to national security. That is clearly wrong, as the oil it carries will be instrumental in making Americans less safe due to the environmental changes wrought by a dangerously overheating planet.

None of that will matter to the Supreme Court, where the nattering nabobs on the right will dutifully rubber stamp the government’s position in a 5-4 decision. Anyone with a cursory knowledge of the history between the US government and Indigenous people knows the federal government will run roughshod over the rights of Indigenous people. Not convinced? Take a moment to learn about the Trail of Tears and the Seminole Wars led by Donald Trump’s favorite president, Andrew Jackson. You heard it here first.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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