BISMARCK — A federal judge closed the books on a five-year legal battle over operations of the Dakota Access Pipeline Tuesday, June 22, after both the court and President Joe Biden's administration declined to shut down the pipeline during an environmental review.
In a brief order, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg dismissed all outstanding counts in the case and said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would not have to file status reports to the court on the progress of their environmental review. The judge said the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which has opposed Dakota Access since its construction began near their North Dakota reservation in 2016, can request for the case to be reopened if there is a violation of prior court orders.
Standing Rock had asked Boasberg to retain jurisdiction over the case during the review process and to require regular status updates to the court, requests opposed by Dakota Access and the Army Corps. The Army Corps is already required to provide monthly public updates on their environmental review, Boasberg noted.
Although the legal fight over the Dakota Access Pipeline likely isn't over, Tuesday's order marks the close of a winding chapter that intensified in the federal courts over the last year. The saga has come with two recent disappointments for Standing Rock, which had hoped that the Democratic Biden administration or Boasberg would temporarily shutter the pipeline.
Almost a year ago, Boasberg ruled that Dakota Access was operating without a key legal permit at its Missouri River crossing just off the Standing Rock reservation, ordering an immediate shutdown of the pipeline until the completion of an extensive environmental review. The decision was a major blow to the North Dakota oil industry, but a higher court later overturned the shutdown order, allowing the pipeline to carry oil continuously through the legal fight.
Biden's Army Corps has so far declined to take action against the pipeline, and in a decision last month, Boasberg said that Standing Rock's arguments fell short of the legal bar needed for another shutdown order, rounding out a series of recent disappointments for the tribe that have narrowed the path to a shutdown.
In court filings this month, both Standing Rock and Dakota Access turned attention to the conclusion of the Army Corps' environmental review, projected for March of 2022, when the results of the federal agency's evaluation could prompt a legal challenge from either side.
Standing Rock noted that the Army Corps has not yet come to a decision on what to do about the pipeline's missing permit, a decision that the tribe said "would likely spawn further litigation." The pipeline company similarly predicted that the tribe may be dissatisfied with the results of the environmental review and argued that they should have to file a separate legal action if they want to challenge it.
Boasberg said Tuesday that if the tribe wants to challenge results of the environmental review, they can return to his court.
Jan Hasselman, an attorney representing Standing Rock, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday's order. Hasselman and the tribe have not indicated whether they plan to appeal the judge's verdict allowing the pipeline to keep running through the environmental review.
Operators of Dakota Access said earlier this year that they intended to appeal the requirement for an environmental review up to the U.S. Supreme Court. That case has not been submitted.
Dakota Access has been a flashpoint in debates over the country's energy and environmental future since protests over its construction near the Standing Rock reservation drew global attention five years ago. The tribe has argued that the pipeline's operations endanger their water supply at its Missouri River crossing.
The pipeline has the capacity to carry 570,000 barrels of oil a day from North Dakota's Bakken region to market around the country, and state regulators and pipeline operators have looked to nearly double its load by the end of this year.
Readers can reach reporter Adam Willis, a Report for America corps member, at firstname.lastname@example.org.