Speaking before a federal judge today, representatives from the Biden administration’s U.S. Army Corps of Engineers indicated that the agency will not shutter the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), despite the ongoing threats it poses to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the fact that it is operating without a federal permit. Although President Joe Biden recently announced intentions to improve Tribal consultation and initiate long-term action to tackle climate change, his administration took a stance today that was identical to that of former President Trump.
Earlier this year, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe leadership and others sent letters to Biden asking him to shut down DAPL while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers performs an environmental and safety review to determine whether the controversial pipeline is safe to operate. An oil spill could poison the Tribe’s drinking water, and millions downstream face a similar risk. The pipeline was built through the Tribe’s unceded ancestral lands, without its consent, and construction decimated its Tribal sacred sites.
“We are gravely concerned about the continued operation of this pipeline, which poses an unacceptable risk to our sovereign nation,” said Chairman Mike Faith 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.”
“This pipeline is unsafe and operating in violation of federal law. Meanwhile, Energy Transfer is seeking to double capacity, which would make DAPL twice as dangerous. Yet the Biden administration’s decision here is to do nothing,” said Earthjustice attorney Jan Hasselman, who has represented Standing Rock in its legal challenge against DAPL for about five years. “It’s hard to see how we’ll ever transition away from fossil fuels or show the rest of the world that we’re serious about tackling climate change, if we are just going to shrug and look away when the fossil fuel industry brazenly ignores Tribal concerns and tramples our federal environmental laws and safety regulations.”
A Jan. 26 ruling in the D.C. Court of Appeals affirmed that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated federal law in 2016 when it issued permits for DAPL to cross beneath the Missouri River. The Court opinion gave a strong nudge to the Biden administration’s Army Corps that it needed to declare whether it intended to shutter the pipeline, in accordance with environmental laws and regulations; or use agency discretion to ignore its legal obligations and allow DAPL to continue operating without a permit. Today’s hearing was closely watched, as it was the first opportunity for the Army Corps to stake out its position under the Biden administration. DAPL generated an internationally significant opposition movement in 2016, when thousands of Tribal members and allies traveled to the North Dakota construction site to put their bodies on the line as water protectors acting in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. For more background on the litigation against DAPL, see Earthjustice’s legal explainer.