U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Judge James E. Boasberg wrote that the federal government had not met all the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, a 50 year-old-law that the Trump administration is now seeking to weaken. The law requires federal agencies to assess and disclose how their decisions might harm the environment.
The Dakota Access pipeline, which opened in 2017, carries about half a million barrels of crude oil a day from North Dakota’s Bakken shale basin to Illinois. The ruling means the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must conduct a more thorough analysis of how a leak in the Dakota pipeline could affect Lake Oahe, which collects water from the Missouri River and lies half a mile from the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.
Several tribes, including the Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux, first challenged the pipeline in 2016. While the Obama administration slowed down the pipeline’s development while it consulted with the tribes, Trump expedited its construction immediately after taking office. It has been shipping hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil each day between North Dakota and Illinois.
“Today is a historic day for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the many people who have supported us in the fight against the pipeline,” said tribe Chairman Mike Faith in a statement. “This pipeline should have never been built here. We told them that from the beginning.”
Trump has sought to speed the development of pipelines and other infrastructure projects across the country, signing multiple executive orders that seek to waive environmental permitting laws. Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency also proposed limiting the ability of states and tribes to block pipelines and other infrastructure projects that could pollute their waterways.
And the White House is expected to finalize a rule within a matter of weeks that would scale back the National Environmental Policy Act, by limiting the extent to which climate change could be considered in federal approval for various projects.
Despite these moves, major infrastructure projects continue to face stiff head winds. In sites across the nation — from the Great Plains to the Southeast and Alaska — activists of color have played a leading role in opposing them.
On Sunday, for example, two energy companies behind the controversial, 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline abandoned their six-year bid to build it, saying it has become too expensive and faces an uncertain regulatory environment. African American leaders had joined with property rights advocates in the Appalachians to fight the pipeline project, which included a compressor station that would have been built in a historic African American community.