Energy & Environment

Biden administration faces big decision on whether to wade into Dakota Access fight

The Biden administration could decide Friday whether or not it is up to them to shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline. 

In January, a federal appeals court determined that the government did not adequately evaluate the environmental impacts of a 2017 easement that enabled the pipeline’s construction, and ordered the government to do a more robust analysis. 

The closely watched question on whether to stop the pipeline’s operations during this process is politically fraught, as as progressives have called for a shut down, while conservatives want to keep its oil flowing.

If the administration does not wade into the pipeline fight, it will get heat from left-wing Democrats and environmentalists, who thus far have been relatively pleased with actions taken by the administration.

If the administration does intervene in the fight, the White House risks further alienating Republicans, who have sought to paint recent actions he’s taken as part of a “war on energy.”

Following years of legal battles over the pipeline, a court ruled in January that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not sufficiently evaluate the environmental impacts of the easement. 

However, the three-judge panel reversed a lower court’s decision that also shut down the pipeline in the meantime, saying that the lower court did not use the right legal process to do so.

The panel also said that “it may well be” that “the law or the Corps’s regulations oblige the Corps to vindicate its property rights by requiring the pipeline to cease operation.” 

Originally, the Biden administration was expected to make its decision by Feb. 10, but a judge agreed to give it more time to get new administration officials up to speed. 

Asked what the administration’s position was on the Dakota Access Pipeline during a Thursday press briefing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki declined to say. 

“We would look at each individual pipeline separately and do an analysis of the costs and benefits on the environment and jobs, which as my assumption, would be happening here,” she told reporters. 

“I don’t have an assessment of that, but we look at each of them individually,” she said.

Biden is facing pressure from both the left and right on the issue. 

The pipeline’s critics say that it violates tribal treaty rights, while supporters argue that it helps transport U.S. energy. 

Thirty-three Democrats recently wrote to Biden saying he should stop the pipeline from carrying crude oil between North Dakota and Illinois. 

“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,” they wrote. 

Indigenous activists and celebrities have also recently urged the administration to do the same. 

Meanwhile, congressional Republicans are supportive of the pipeline, and would likely push back on any moves to disrupt it. 

“The Army Corps of Engineers should be allowed to proceed as they are without political interference from the Biden Administration,” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said in a statement in January. “This is not another opportunity to wage war on North Dakota’s energy producers.”

Republicans have staunchly criticized other recent moves made by the administration on energy, including the revocation of a border-crossing permit for the Keystone pipeline and temporary pause on new oil and gas leases on federal lands. 

Updated 8:40 p.m.

Tags biden environmental policy Dakota Access Pipeline Jen Psaki Joe Biden Kevin Cramer Keystone Pipeline

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