In a major victory in the struggle to protect the Standing Rock, a US federal court struck down the permit for the Dakota Access Pipeline. Judge James Boasberg of the Washington DC District Court rejected the existing permit granted to the controversial pipeline and declared it wasin violation of the National Environmental Protection Act or NEPA.
The struggle of Native American activists of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe against the multi-billion dollar oil corporation Energy Transfer’s pipeline project began in April 2016, when the project began construction. The nearly 1,900 kms long pipeline passes through the Standing Rock reservation, an Indigenous land reservation. Due to the fierce resistance and heavy repression, thousands of people from across the world joined the protest against the pipeline, and came out in support of the tribe, making the Dakota Access Pipeline one of the most controversial projects in the US.
The widespread opposition to the pipeline had prompted the then President Barack Obama to withhold permission for the project. When Donald Trump came to office, he not only granted permission for the construction of the project but also brutally dismantled and evicted hundreds of protesters from the pathway of the pipeline. The pipeline began operation by June 2017, while hundreds of Indigenous and environmental activists were charged with obstruction and other accusations by the police.
The ruling observed that the permit granted to the pipeline did not respect the guidelines of NEPA, since the Army Corps of Engineers (a federal agency assigned to oversee major construction projects) did not conduct the environmental impact assessment that was required.
The judge also pointed out the Corps violated NEPA by recommending a permit based on an incomplete and limited impact assessment report. “This court ultimately concludes that too many questions remain unanswered,” read the ruling. It also pointed out how the Corps has yet to respond to assessments from independent experts on crucial fallout aspects of the project, which include the possible worst case scenarios in the case of an accident.
The judgement by Judge Boasberg comes as a relief to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and has been lauded by other Indigenous groups and environmentalists across the US who are fighting similar battles against giant oil corporations. The court ordered the Corps to make a comprehensive assessment, and negotiate with the tribe and Energy Transfer regarding a possible moratorium on the pipeline’s operations.
Celebrating the ruling, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe chairman Mike Faith said “after years of commitment to defending our water and earth, we welcome this news of a significant legal win.”