Judge refuses to block work on Dakota Access pipeline

Judge refuses to block work on Dakota Access pipeline
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A federal judge on Monday denied a request to block construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota.

U.S. District Judge James Boasberg said he would not grant a temporary restraining order against the project sought by a South Dakota tribe who argues the pipeline threatens their religious waters.

The Cheyenne River Sioux tribe says the oil pipeline threatens to "imbalance and desecrate" Lake Oahe on the Missouri River, which is sacred to the tribe. They asked for a temporary restraining order blocking construction of the project, which runs under the lake.

"The mere presence of the oil in the pipeline renders the waters religiously impure," Cheyenne River Sioux lawyer Nicole Ducheneaux said Monday.

But a government lawyer said there is no reason to block construction right now because of a "lack of immediate, irreparable" harm to Lake Oahe during construction of the pipeline itself.

Boasberg agreed, ruling that construction of the pipeline doesn't threaten the water. He said he wouldn't issue a restraining order against the project, but vowed to rule on the tribe’s religious challenge to the pipeline before oil runs through it. He set a hearing on the matter for later this month.

"If you are worried it's going to flow before I rule on the injunction, that's not going to happen," he told the tribe’s lawyers.

Also Monday, a lawyer for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe said he would file a motion asking Boasberg to give an up-or-down ruling on the validity of the government’s permitting decisions on the project. 

The Standing Rock tribe has sued against the pipeline on environmental grounds, arguing the project should go through an Environmental Impact Statement review before moving forward. 

So far, Dakota Access opponents have looked for temporary orders to construction on the project. But Jan Hasselman, an Earthjustice lawyer who represents the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, said it’s time to get a ruling on the pipeline itself. 

“Construction has started, we are going to try to get these issues resolved before oil can flow, and so we’re moving very aggressively to put the legal questions in front of the judge and get a determination as soon as we can,” Hasselman told reporters after the hearing.

Boasberg said a decision on that question could come after the pipeline is built and oil is running through it.

The Trump administration bypassed an environmental review of the project in in January when President Trump ordered federal agencies to issue the easement allowing developers to build the pipeline under Lake Oahe, one of the last stretches of the 1,170-mile pipeline that still needs to be built.  

Last week, the Army Corps of Engineers formally issued that easement. 

Dakota Access developers are building the pipeline’s Oahe crossing now, and a lawyer for the company said on Monday that the company could potentially run oil through the pipeline within 45 days, if not sooner. 

“The company is moving as quickly as it can to complete the pipeline to make up for lost time over the last couple of months,” Dakota Access lawyer David Debold said. 

- Updated at 4:19 p.m.