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Dakota Access pipeline to remain in operation despite calls for shutdown

Dakota Access pipeline to remain in operation despite calls for shutdown
© Greg Nash

The Dakota Access pipeline will remain in operation while the federal government reviews its environmental impacts, a lawyer for the federal government indicated Friday. 

Lawyer Ben Schifman, who represented the federal government, said the Biden administration is requiring the pipeline to abide by conditions that were set in a now-vacated permit that allowed for its construction but “has not taken any additional action.”

However, Schifman left the door open for potential changes in the future, saying it’s a matter of “continuing discretion.”

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His comments come after an appeals court ruled that an easement that allowed for the pipeline’s construction did not undergo a sufficient environmental review.

The appeals court reversed a lower court’s decision to also drain the pipeline of oil and stop its operations, and sent the issue back to the lower court.

The appeals court also gave the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) the opportunity to shut the pipeline down during the environmental review process, saying “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.”

Friday’s announcement came after the administration requested additional time for a hearing on the decision to get the new administration up to speed.

Judge James Boasberg reacted with surprise that the administration did not take a firmer stance after asking for additional time.

“I would’ve thought there would have been a decision one way or the other at this point,” he said.

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Boasberg said he’ll now have to evaluate the request from the tribes to shut it down. 

The pipeline’s opponents expressed disappointment in the fact that the administration won’t shut down the pipeline. 

“What we heard today is a decision to let the pipeline continue to operate,” said Jan Hasselman, a lawyer representing the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. 

“In the absence of a valid permit, the pipeline is going to keep operating, exposing the tribe and its members to the risk of disaster while the Army Corps studies what those risks are and what a spil would mean,” Hasselman added. “It’s not right.”

Meanwhile, Dakota Access lawyer David Debold said during the conference that he’s going to ask a larger panel of judges to weigh in on Boasberg’s judgment that required further environmental review.

—Updated at 3:41 p.m.