The Obama administration’s decision to block another oil pipeline targeted by environmental activists and some American Indians has set the stage for a major legal and political battle that could rival the fight for the Keystone XL pipeline.
Federal agencies blocked the company Energy Transfer from continuing to build the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAP) Friday until they could determine if any American Indian sacred sites could be damaged by the project.
Environmentalists cheered the news. Many of the same groups that made their name opposing the Keystone XL pipeline have joined the fight against the $.3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline (DAP) that would bring 470,000 barrels of Bakken crude oil per day from western North Dakota to southern Illinois.
In what’s been called the largest gathering of American Indians in more than 100 years, the Standing Rock Sioux and other tribes, along with lots of environmental activists, have converged on DAP construction sites, riding right up to pipeline workers on horseback and holding anti-pipeline rallies.
Protests turned violent at times. In early August, construction equipment at three pipeline worksites were lit on fire and the police launched an investigation into the arson.
In September, protesters and pipeline security guards clashed as work began on the project. Four security guards and two guard dogs were injured, according to police, and no protesters were reported injured.
Tribal officials told reporters security dogs bit six protesters, including a child, and that at least 30 people got pepper-sprayed by pipeline security.
But the Obama administration’s decision to block the pipeline came after a federal judge ruled the Army Corps of Engineers followed the law and properly evaluated the the pipeline’s potential impacts on the sacred sites of the Standing Rock Sioux.
Judge James Boasberg ruled Friday that “the Corps has likely complied with the NHPA and that the Tribe has not shown it will suffer injury that would be prevented by any injunction the Court could issue.”
The ruling, however, didn’t matter, and Obama administration officials sided with environmentalists to halt construction on the DAP.
“This is a historic, unprecedented, and overdue move by the Administration that is reflective of the brave and principled stand by the Standing Rock Sioux,” Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said in a statement on the Obama administration blocking the project.
The Sierra Club was a major opponent of Keystone XL, saying the project would spill oil and worsen global warming. The Club is making similar arguments about DAP — Brune said blocking the project was in “our climate’s interest.”
“Our government stood up for the people,” Jane Kleeb, president of the anti-pipeline Bold Alliance, said. “The only reason this action was taken to halt construction was people power — and having a government that is made up of individuals who truly listen to our concerns.”
Kleeb’s first foray into environmental activism was her opposition to Keystone XL. She entered the fight protesting pipeline company TransCanada’s use of eminent domain to take property from Nebraska landowners, but her activism now crosses into other states to oppose pipeline proposals to get Bakken oil out of the Great Plains.
Other anti-Keytone XL activists have joined the fray as well, including environmentalist Bill McKibben, and eco-lawyers at Earthjustice who sued the Army Corps of Engineers on behalf of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
McKibben and his group 350.org were some of the most vocal opponents of Keystone XL, and helped bring about the pipeline’s ultimate defeat in 2015 when the White House refused to issue the permit the project needed to ship oil from Canada to refineries in Gulf Coast states.
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