Story at a glance
- Since 2016, activists have been working to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline’s construction, citing the threat it poses to Sioux tribal lands and the environment.
- The pipeline is more than 1,000 miles long and undergoing an environmental safety review while still in operation.
- Biden’s administration said researchers are still gathering information.
An attorney from the Biden administration confirmed Friday that the Department of Justice (DOJ) would not seek to immediately stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, the embattled pipe that would transport oil between Illinois and North Dakota.
The administration says it will not shut down the controversial pipeline while an environmental review is conducted, CNN reports.
The pipeline has been operating since 2017. Environmental and Native American advocacy organizations have protested the project, noting that it would disrupt land and water supply belonging to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
Additionally, the companies overseeing the project are doing so without being granted a federal permit.
According to Earthjustice, Standing Rock representatives have continuously sent Biden letters asking for the pipeline to be shut down as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducts its safety review.
DOJ attorney Ben Schifman reportedly said before a federal judge on Friday that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which handles permits for the pipeline, is in "a continuous process of evaluating" relevant information surrounding the pipeline's construction.
The Biden administration's decision to allow the line to keep operating was met with disappointment from Standing Rock leaders and environmental activists alike.
"We are gravely concerned about the continued operation of this pipeline, which poses an unacceptable risk to our sovereign nation," said Chairman Mike Faith of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in a press release on Friday. "In a meeting with members of Biden's staff earlier this year, we were told that this new administration wanted to 'get this right.' Unfortunately, today's update from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shows it has chosen to ignore our pleas and stick to the wrong path."
Conversely, the move is a victory for pipeline owner Energy Transfer LP and drillers such as Continental Resources Inc. that use the line to transport crude oil, according to Bloomberg.
Schifman told the court that the federal government has authority to take action against the Dakota Access Pipeline, including shutting down the operation, but it won't do so "at this time," Bloomberg further reports.
This decision runs opposite to Biden's ambitious environment and climate agenda, which aims to overhaul U.S. infrastructure in a bid to make the U.S. economy carbon neutral by 2035.
A previous ruling from Jan. 26 found that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated federal law in 2016 by issuing permits for construction beneath the Missouri River.
The judge gave Dakota Access until the end of this month to update their legal arguments in this case. The full environmental and safety review is expected to be completed by 2022. Upon review, the Army Corps will determine if the pipeline can be operated safely or if it must be shuttered.
In October 2020, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe renewed its request for an injunction to stop the project pending the completion of the environmental review.
Following the federal decision, several members of Congress, including Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), and Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) co-authored a letter to Biden asking him to meet with Sioux Tribe members to better understand how the pipeline threatens their land and public health.
"By shutting down this illegal pipeline, you can continue to show your administration values the environment and the rights of Indigenous communities more than the profits of outdated fossil fuel industries," the letter reads. "This is a critical step towards righting the wrongs of the past and setting our nation on a path of environmental, climate, and social justice."