USA: Major Victory for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in their fight against oil pipeline

The movement gained international attention in 2016, when thousands of water defenders gathered at camps in North Dakota, facing a highly militarized police force armed with tanks, riot gear, rubber bullets, and other weapons.

Standing Rock

A Washington DC court handed down Wednesday a major victory for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe of North Dakota, ruling that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by approving federal permits for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).

In what can be seen as a significant win for the native American Sioux Tribe, a federal judge in Washington DC ordered an environmental review of the Dakota pipeline on Wednesday. The Sioux Tribe has been legally fighting this battle for four years.

The court granted a request by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, which had petitioned to nullify federal permits for the Dakota Access Pipeline on grounds that the USACE violated the National Environmental Policy Act when it issued permits in 2016 without conducting adequate environmental reviews.

The Standing Rock Sioux had raised concerns regarding the likelihood and danger of potential oil spills, DAPL’s leak-detection system, and the safety record of Sunoco Logistics, the company behind the pipeline.

Background of Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL)

Standing Rock Indian Reservation is one of the legally designated land areas managed by native Indian tribes in the US.  There are 326 such Indian reservations in the US.

The Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL)  has been carrying crude oil for three years from North Dakota to Illinois, it spans over 1886 kilometers and cost about $3.8 billion to be constructed. The route of this pipeline crosses under the Missouri river. The Missouri river is half a mile from the Standing Rock Indian reservation.

A spill from to the pipeline could have far-reaching effects on drinking water access and irrigation of the fields in the area. This could potentially destroy the way of life for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

The pipeline has been protested by the Native American tribes who live near the pipelines and many activists have condemned the pipeline. The fear that the oil spill could negatively affect the lives of the people was not imagined, the pipe had oil spills in North and South Dakota when feeder lines leaked. No water bodies were affected then, but this set precedence for what could happen in the future. From 2016 there have been protests against the DAPL April. In August 2016 the Sioux Tribe sued the US Army Corps for their failure to consult the tribe before approving the line. By December of that year, the Obama administration had put a stay on the DAPL but once Trump came into power, he overturned these orders.

In 2017, the Sioux Tribe had challenged the permits in court and won but the judge did not shut the pipeline down. Then, the US Army Corp re-did an environmental impact assessment but kept the Sioux Tribe out from the review process and concluded that the previous analysis they had done was sufficient.

The protest against the DAPL gained momentum with the youth from the tribe taking lead in the protests. Several organizations, activists, leaders joined the movement.

The movement gained international attention in 2016, when thousands of water defenders gathered at camps in North Dakota, facing a highly militarized police force armed with tanks, riot gear, rubber bullets, and other weapons.

The protestors were often met with violence from the state. Bulldozers were used to defile sacred land, dogs were released on the protestors, water cannons were used on them in the middle of winter, and protestors were arrested and were met with harsh treatment in jail.

Victory for water and environment 

On Wednesday, a federal court granted the request of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to strike down the federal permits for the DAPL. The US army corps of engineers, who had granted permits for the pipeline, were ordered to do a full environmental impact assessment. The judge stated that the US Army Corp had failed to consider the health and environmental impacts in case of an oil spill and had violated the National Environmental Policy. The court criticized the Army Corp for not taking the Tribes expert critique into account about leak detection systems, operator safety records, spills in adverse weather, and worst-case discharge. The court relied on the Tribe’s technical analysis of the DAPL’s history of spills and low performing safety records which according to the court ‘did not inspire confidence.’ The US Army Corp was also criticized for supporting DAPL instead of conducting an impartial inquiry into their abysmal safety records. The judge in the order stated that the US Army Corp had not “adequately discharged its duties”

A spokesperson of the GAIN (Grow America’s Infrastructure Now) Coalition, a group that advocates for large infrastructure projects, said that this could jeopardize the country’s economy and energy security.

The judgement has not shut down the pipeline yet and has asked both parties to submit briefs on whether they think the pipeline should be shut down or not. The Sioux Tribe is now gearing up to argue that the DAPL should be shut down while the environmental review is completed.  “It’s humbling to see how actions we took four years ago to defend our ancestral homeland continue to inspire national conversations about how our choices ultimately affect this planet.” Said Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Mike Faith.

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