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Biden Delivers Disappointment on the Dakota Access Pipeline

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On April 9, the Biden administration announced that it will not take immediate action to shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline while the government conducts a court-ordered environmental review. The controversial pipeline has been transporting toxic crude oil near the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s reservation since 2017 and operating illegally since March 25, 2020.

It’s time to put pressure on the White House. Though President Biden has stated his commitment to improving tribal consultation and taking bold action to tackle climate change, his administration took a stance today that is identical to that of the Trump administration.

What just happened?

  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it will allow oil to continue flowing through the Tribe’s ancestral land and water supply.
  • The pipeline began operating illegally last spring, when a federal judge revoked its water crossing permit.
  • The pipeline will continue to shuttle 600,000 barrels of crude oil per day a half-mile up the Missouri River from the Standing Rock reservation. A pipeline spill would contaminate the drinking water of the Tribe and millions of others downstream.

Courts have affirmed the Dakota Access Pipeline is operating against federal law.

  • The Tribe has been seeking an injunction from the court to halt the pipeline’s operation until the environmental review is complete.
  • In July 2020, a federal judge ordered the Dakota Access Pipeline to shut down while the government conducts a full-fledged analysis examining the risk that the pipeline poses to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. (The shutdown order was swiftly overturned, and the pipeline has been operating since.)
  • This January, a D.C. Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s ruling that the Army Corps unlawfully issued the pipeline’s water crossing permit, but deferred to the new administration to decide whether to shut down the pipeline or ignore its legal obligation and allow it to continue operating.

What happens next?

  • The Army Corps is conducting an environmental and safety review to determine whether the pipeline poses a threat to the Tribe.
  • Once this review is complete (expected in early 2022), the agency will determine whether the pipeline is safe to operate or must be permanently shut down.
  • The judge will rule on the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s request for an injunction shutting down the pipeline.

“We are gravely concerned about the continued operation of this pipeline, which poses an unacceptable risk to our sovereign nation,” said Mike Faith, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. “In a meeting with members of Biden’s staff earlier this year, we were told that this new administration wanted to ‘get this right.’ Unfortunately, today’s update from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shows it has chosen to ignore our pleas and stick to the wrong path.”

The Tribe has persisted through five years of court battles to protect their home and their health from the Dakota Access Pipeline, and they will continue to fight with Earthjustice at their side.

Brandon Mauai, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Councilmember, and Jan Hasselman, attorney at Earthjustice, share reactions from the hearing:

Earthjustice · Standing Rock and Earthjustice Offer Reactions Following Key Court Hearing on Dakota Access Pipeline

How can you help?

Tell Biden to permanently shut down Dakota Access Pipeline and others around the country, because they have no place in our fossil-free future.

Why is a phone number required? Unfortunately, the Biden administration requires that your letter includes certain information, including a phone number. We only ask for a phone number because of this requirement. If your letter does not include a phone number, it cannot be delivered to the Biden administration’s electronic mail system.

Photo of an Indigenous activist with fist raised in the air before a sign that reads "President Biden, build back fossil free."
On April 1, 2021, activists with the Indigenous Environmental Network organized a rally in Washington, D.C., calling on President Biden to 'Build Back Fossil Free' by stopping the Dakota Access, Line 3, and Line 5 pipelines. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)