A Major Victory for Indigenous Rights Against the Dakota Access Pipeline

Photo: Voice of America

By Zoey Shipley

A federal judge on Wednesday said the cursory environmental review for the Dakota Access Pipeline was fatally flawed and ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has to conduct a full environmental impact assessment – the court is still considering whether to halt operations in the interim. The ruling goes to the heart of a decision to permit the pipeline to cross under the Missouri River after they concluded that there “would be no significant environmental impact,” a decision challenged by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe who sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Why This Matters: The 1,000 mile Dakota Access Pipeline “carries crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois” with “nearly 500,000 barrels of oil” being transported each day through the pipeline. This creates a great risk for the Standing Rock’s Tribe that is located directly downstream of the river and depends on this source of water for living. The tribe uses the Missouri River for “fishing, drinking, and religious ceremonies” and a leak from the pipeline would be disastrous for the Souix nation and surrounding areas.  The judge held that the government had not done enough to study the risks of a major spill or whether the pipeline’s leak detection system was adequate.

The Fight Continues

Though this was a major victory for indigenous nations, environmentalists, and other citizens affected by the pipeline; the fight is not over. The judge “did not rule on whether oil could continue to flow through” the pipeline. If the pipeline continues, it still leaves a major threat to the Sioux nation as the court battles continue. The pipeline already has a history of leaking, in 2019 the line leaked “about 383,000 gallons of oil, which could fill more than half of an Olympic-sized swimming pool.”

It may not have been an official end to the pipeline, but this decision will help the Sioux Tribe in their fight to have their rights recognized. “After years of commitment to defending our water and earth, we welcome this news of a significant legal win,” stated Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Mike Faith about the decision. “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. Perhaps in the wake of this court ruling the federal government will begin to catch on, too, starting by actually listening to us when we voice our concerns.”

To Go Deeper: Read this Mother Jones story on the history of the #NoDAPL movement.  And you can read the court’s decision here.

Illustration: Starship Earth: The Big Picture

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