Photo: AP

Opponents to the Dakota Access pipeline were dealt yet another a blow on Wednesday, when a U.S. District Court judge decided that the 1,172-mile long crude oil pipeline should continue operating until the Army Corps of Engineers concludes its environmental impact statement.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe first filed a lawsuit against the Army Corps over the pipeline last year—a lawsuit that’s very much alive. The tribe alleged that the federal agency had violated a number of laws (the Clean Water Act, Rivers and Harbors Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act) by skipping an environmental impact statement. They’re concerned about how the pipeline may hurt their drinking water and sacred lands.

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In June, Judge James Boasberg agreed. The court found the Army Corps in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act, writing in his brief the Corps “did not adequately consider the impacts of an oil spill on fishing rights, hunting rights, or environmental justice” before granting the project construction permits. The judge then posed the question: What’s the proper remedy? The Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes had argued that the pipeline should cease oil transport until the federal agency finished its environmental review.

They couldn’t convince Boasberg, though.

This move has been a long ways coming. The lawsuit is one of the last avenues pipeline opponents have to stop the $3.8 billion energy project. The pipeline began operations in June. Even before then, it had spilled 100 gallons of oil in North Dakota and 84 gallons in South Dakota. But it appears to be profiting the state, according to the North Dakota Pipeline Authority: In three months, it boosted tax revenues by $19 million due to an increased price of crude oil.

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The Dakota Access pipeline became an issue of national interest last year when largely peaceful members of indigenous-led resistance camps in North Dakota clashed with law enforcement during protests against the pipeline. Those camps are now gone, but efforts to stop its developer, Energy Transfer Partners, from further fossil fuel extraction continues—in the courts and on the ground.

When Earther reached out, Kandi Mossett, a lead organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, was with Cherri Foytlin, the state director of environmental group Bold Louisiana. Both had spent time at these camps, and neither had yet heard about the case update. They weren’t shocked, but they were disappointed.

Mossett told Earther she wouldn’t be surprised if President Donald Trump gave Boasberg a call himself to make sure the pipeline kept running. After all, it was Trump’s presidential memorandum that ensured Dakota Access finish construction. She doesn’t know what governmental agencies to trust these days. Mossett lives in North Dakota on the Fort Berthold Reservation, and her governor accepted $15 million from Energy Transfer Partners last month to help cover the policing costs the state accrued during the protests.

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“It’s really blurring the lines of who to trust and who to turn to for your own protection as a citizen in the United States,” Mossett says.

Now, she worries about Foytlin and how today’s decision might impact her. Foytlin lives in Louisiana, where her organization is contesting the Bayou Bridge pipeline, a 163-mile long proposed expansion line from Energy Transfer Partners to help bring crude oil from the Bakken Formation’s shale reserves near Mossett’s home in North Dakota through the Dakota Access all the way to St. James Parish.

“It hurts because DAPL connects to the Bayou Bridge,” she says, “and if the judge is saying we’re not going to stop this, then we’re going to have a harder time stopping that.”

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Foytlin is a little more hopeful. She hopes this decision sheds light on the broken processes that allowed a pipeline that runs through four states to be built without sufficient environmental review, and that it encourages her representatives to avoid repeating another mistake.

“This just shows me that from the top before [the Bayou Bridge pipeline] goes in, we need to be sure we’re being vigilant that [officials] are really looking at it,” Foytlin says.

As for activists in North Dakota, they have to wait until April to know what their officials decide next. That’s when the Army Corps of Engineers expects to finish its environmental review. And opponents say they will be ready to continue fighting. They’ve sure got ample time to prepare.

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