Activists and media outlets are reporting that a recent court decision on the Dakota Access Pipeline could potentially scuttle the major oil project, yet the judge’s opinion suggests the court’s objections are unlikely to close the pipeline
Several outlets suggested that the court’s decision to call the government’s environmental review inadequate could put the pipeline’s fate in jeopardy. But Judge James Boasberg’s notes that his critiques of the environmental review are “discrete” and shouldn’t affect the Army Corp of Engineers’ overall assessment of the pipeline.
Still, reporters at The Seattle Times, The Daily Beast, among others, pushed forward with the narrative that Boasberg’s move could bring the DAPL to a screeching halt and give a major victory to Standing Rock Sioux, an American Indian group in North Dakota that believes the pipeline could trample tribal lands and taint their water supply.
A headline in The Seattle Times, for instance, blared: “Federal judge rejects Dakota Access Pipeline permits, calls for do-over.” The paper’s headline makes it unclear whether the DAPL or the Army Corps is under review.
Other outlets used similar angles in their reporting. An ABC affiliate in Baltimore’s called Boasberg’s move a “significant victory” in court, before then qualifying that the court’s decision was a “small victory” for activists fighting the pipeline.
The Daily Beast doubled down, writing on Thursday, that the court’s move paves “the way for the line to be halted at a later date.” The outlet qualified this point, telling readers that the judge has not yet determined whether to block the project.
Most of their reporting hinges upon Boasberg’s point that the government, “did not adequately consider the impacts of an oil spill on fishing rights, hunting rights, or environmental justice, or the degree to which the pipeline’s effects are likely to be highly controversial.”
Boasberg disposed of several of Standing Rock’s claims, though, ruling that the Army Corps substantially complied with the National Environmental Policy Act in most of the areas under review. He said the violation was not enough at this point from blocking oil from coursing through the multi-billion-dollar pipeline.
Activists seized upon Boasberg’s decision and argued the judge’s move has implications far beyond Standing Rock and the pipeline dispute.
“In the vernacular, it’s a big deal,” Sarah Krakoff, a law professor at the University of Colorado, told reporters following the move. “It’s an important step for a court to recognize that both environmental-justice claims and the failure to adequately analyze Indian treaty rights can be the basis for the reversal of an agency’s environmental analysis.”
Other environmentalists mirrored Krakoff’s point.
“This is a a very significant victory and vindication of the tribe’s opinion,” Jan Hasselman, the lead attorney with Earthjustice, an environmental-advocacy group representing Standing Rock Sioux, told reporters.
Boasberg disposed of several of activist’s claims, though. He wrote, for example, that the Army Corps substantially complied with the National Environmental Policy Act in most of the areas under review. He said the violation was not enough at this point from blocking oil from coursing through the multi-billion-dollar pipeline.
Environmentalists have lost several court battles in recent months against the DAPL. Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and Standing Rock Sioux gave up a lawsuit preventing construction on the pipeline. They appealed a U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit decision in March essentially allowing the project to go forward despite concerns from either tribe.
Attorneys for Cheyenne River submitted a motion in late April to voluntarily dismiss the tribe’s claims in the appeals court, and the motion was granted in May. The 1,200-mile-long oil pipeline is set to begin shuttling hundreds of thousands of barrels of Bakken oil from the Dakotas to Illinois.
Boasberg and activists will meet later this month to determine how to remedy the Army Corps’ violations. Oil began flowing commercially on June 1, so shutting down the project entirely would require significant violations.
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