Court cancels shutdown of Dakota Access Pipeline

A U.S. appeals court on Wednesday reversed a lower court’s determination that the Dakota Access Pipeline should be temporarily shut down.

U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg had ordered the pipeline to be shut down last month while the Army Corps of Engineers works to prepare an environmental impact statement for a rule relaxation that allowed it to cross the Missouri river.

However, a three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled Wednesday that the lower court did not have the “findings necessary” for such a move.

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Still, Wednesday's ruling was not entirely a win for backers of the Dakota Access Pipeline, with the appeals court declining to halt a prior ruling saying the Army Corps of Engineers needed to conduct another environmental impacts assessment. 

Last month, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ordered the pipeline to be temporarily shut down while the Army Corps. of Engineers conducts the additional assessment. That followed a prior ruling in which Boasberg determined that a previous environmental assessment was inadequate. 

“Appellants have failed to make a strong showing of likely success on their claims that the district court erred in directing the Corps to prepare an environmental impact statement,” the judges said Wednesday.

Earthjustice attorney Jan Hasselman, who sued over the pipeline on behalf of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, said in a statement that the split decision now leaves the pipeline “operating illegally” since a permit for it has been vacated, but it’s also continuing to transport oil. 

A news release from Hasselman’s group says that it’s now up to the Army Corps of Engineers to decide whether to shut down the pipeline and if it doesn’t do so, the matter will return to the lower court. 

“We’ve been in this legal battle for four years, and we aren’t giving up this fight,” Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Mike Faith said in the statement. “As the environmental review process gets underway in the months ahead, we look forward to showing why the Dakota Access Pipeline is too dangerous to operate.”

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The oil and gas industry expressed mixed feelings over the latest ruling.

"The Court rightly stayed the decision to shut down and empty the Dakota Access Pipeline, which has been operating for over three years and provides millions of tax dollars to states, affordable energy to the entire region, and thousands of jobs along its route," said a statement from American Petroleum Institute senior vice president and chief legal officer Paul Afonso.

"However, the failure to uphold the easement granted years ago by the federal government exemplifies the problems with our outdated permitting system, which allows protracted challenges to advance within the courts and ultimately take away jobs, tax dollars, and investments that pipelines bring to communities that sorely need them."

Wednesday's ruling is the latest development in a long legal battle over the 1,200-mile pipeline that carries oil from North Dakota to Illinois.

Most recently, the appellate court paused the decision requiring the shutdown for administrative reasons.

The Dakota Access Pipeline was completed in 2017 after President TrumpDonald John TrumpOmar fires back at Trump over rally remarks: 'This is my country' Pelosi: Trump hurrying to fill SCOTUS seat so he can repeal ObamaCare Trump mocks Biden appearance, mask use ahead of first debate MORE ordered for it to be revived, a reversal from when the Obama administration denied a permit for the project.

The controversial project has drawn significant opposition from environmentalists and tribes over the years, spurring massive protests.

The decision from last month that would have shut down the pipeline was one of several that dealt setbacks or uncertainty for often-challenged pipeline projects.

Around that time, companies behind the Atlantic Coast pipeline backed out of the multibillion-dollar project, citing persistent legal battles and other matters and recent court decisions have also prevented the Keystone XL pipeline form using a permit that helps fast-track construction.