Court to consider forcing approval of Dakota Access pipeline

Court to consider forcing approval of Dakota Access pipeline
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A federal judge will consider whether to require the federal government approve the controversial Dakota Access oil pipeline.

Energy Transfer Partners, which is developing the pipeline, argued in court that when the Army Corps of Engineers issued a permit in July to build the line under Lake Oahe in North Dakota, it also took all the necessary steps to issue the easement that the company also needs.

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Judge James Boasberg of the District Court for the District of Columbia set a briefing schedule at a Friday hearing in Washington for Energy Transfer’s claim that granting the easement is a “ministerial” action and mandated since the company has the related permit.

“The final decision on the right-of-way was made on July 25,” David Debold, the attorney representing Dakota Access, told Boasberg at the Friday hearing.

Debold said Dakota Access is losing nearly $20 million every week that the Army Corps delays its decision on the easement. He requested “expedited” consideration of the motion, which Dakota Access first formally made in November.

Briefs from Dakota Access, the tribes trying to stop the construction and the federal government will be complete by February under Boasberg’s order, and he may schedule oral arguments after that before making a decision.

The pipeline has spurred a larger fight, pitting supporters of Native American rights and environmentalists against the fossil fuel industry.

The Army Corps on Sunday announced that it would not grant the easement at this time, instead ordering a comprehensive environmental review of the planned pipeline crossing under the lake.

It was a major victory for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, its allies and the thousands of protesters who had camped out near the lake for months to get the easement rejected.

But the victory may be short-lived. Aides to President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Memo: Will Mueller play hardball with Trump? Mexican presidential candidate vows to fire back at Trump's 'offensive' tweets Elizabeth Warren urges grads to fight for 'what is decent' in current political climate MORE say he plans to approve the project as quickly as possible, and Boasberg’s eventual ruling could also mandate the easement.

Boasberg noted that the change of administration on Jan. 20 might make the case moot, since Trump won’t object to the easement.

But he said that issue is “not my business to guess on” and asked the federal government to file a notice with him promptly if their position on the matter changes.

The case in the federal court was originally filed in July by the Standing Rock Sioux to challenge the Army Corps’s permit.

The judge has so far not granted the tribe’s request to overturn the permit, but he said at the Friday hearing that the request is largely moot thanks to the Army Corps’s Sunday decision.

But now, the case is largely focusing on the pipeline company’s motion to mandate that its easement be granted.

The pipeline from North Dakota to Illinois is nearly complete, and the Lake Oahu easement is the last major approval it needs.