Environment First Look

Federal judge denies request to block Dakota pipeline (+video)

US federal judge James Boasberg rejected a request by two Native American tribes to halt construction of the remaining section of the Dakota Access oil pipeline until their lawsuit over the project is resolved.

Madonna Thunder Hawk, of the Oohenumpa band of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, gestures as she walks out of federal court to talk with reporters in Washington on Monday.
Susan Walsh/AP
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Construction of the final stretch of the Dakota Access Pipeline will proceed as planned, a US federal judge ruled Monday. 

Judge James Boasberg of the US District Court in Washington, D.C., denied a request by Native American tribes to halt construction of the controversial $3.8-billion project that has resulted in months of protests and more than 700 arrests. Attorneys for the Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes had asked Judge Boasberg to block construction with a temporary restraining order, arguing that the 1,170-mile pipeline would prevent the tribes from holding religious ceremonies at a lake they say is surrounded by sacred ground. The oil, the tribes' attorneys said, would "[render] the water spiritually impure." 

"We're disappointed with today's ruling denying a temporary restraining order against the Dakota Access Pipeline, but we are not surprised," Chase Iron Eyes, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, said in a statement. 

While construction will continue for now, the legal battle isn't over. As long as oil isn't flowing through the pipeline, there is no immediate harm to the tribes, Boasberg ruled. However, he said, he will consider the arguments more thoroughly at another hearing on Feb. 27. 

Amid widespread resistance to the pipeline that attracted thousands of protesters to North Dakota last year, construction under Lake Oahe had been held up in the courts until last month, when President Trump instructed the Army Corps of Engineers to move forward with the project as planned. The denial from Judge Boasberg comes less than a week after the Army announced that it would allow the pipeline to cross under Lake Oahe, clearing the way for the project's completion. 

Last week, Energy Transfer Partners spokeswoman Vicki Granado estimated that the drilling work would take approximately two months, and that the pipeline would be operational within three. But according to David Debold, a lawyer for Dakota Access, the pipeline could be ready for oil within as little as 30 days. 

"We're not in a position where we can agree to any kind of stopping of the pipeline," Mr. Debold said, as reported by the Associated Press. 

The Army Corps of Engineers also filed court documents on Monday, arguing that halting construction is unnecessary, as the tribes will have an opportunity to argue their case before oil flows through the pipeline. 

Until then, Mr. Iron Eyes of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe said, he and other opponents of the pipeline will continue to fight in courts and on the ground, "in peaceful prayer and in dignity as we assert our rights to protect our environment, our economy and our sovereignty."

This report includes material from the Associated Press and Reuters.