A federal judge on Wednesday said an environmental review of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline was inadequate, handing a last-minute victory to Native American tribes and environmentalists who have long opposed the project.
In a 91-page decision, U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg said the Army Corps of Engineers, which gave its final approval to the oil project in February, “did not adequately consider the impacts of an oil spill on fishing rights, hunting rights, or environmental justice, or the degree to which the pipeline’s effect are likely to be highly controversial.”
Boasberg ordered the agency to conduct new reviews of those sections of its environmental analysis, but did not halt the use of the pipeline, which began flowing oil on June 1.
The Standing Rock Sioux tribe, which filed the lawsuit, called Wednesday’s decision a “significant victory.”
“The previous administration painstakingly considered the impacts of this pipeline, and President Trump hastily dismissed these careful environmental considerations in favor of political and personal interests,” tribe chairman Dave Archambault said in a statement. “We applaud the courts for protecting our laws and regulations from undue political influence, and will ask the Court to shut down pipeline operations immediately.”
The $3.8 billion, 1,170-mile pipeline has been at the center of an environmental battle for more than a year after thousands of activist, many with Standing Rock, descended on a small region of North Dakota to protest. The monthslong standoff drew international media attention and led the Army Corps of Engineers to pull the plug on the project.
However, just weeks into his presidency, Donald Trump signed an executive order reopening both the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines. Now in operation, at its peak, the Dakota Access pipeline could ship up to 570,000 barrels of oil a day.
The courts have previously rejected legal arguments to shut down the pipeline. Boasberg in February allowed the project to go ahead after siding with its owner, Energy Transfer Partners, over a lawsuit that alleged the pipeline threatened cultural and historic sites.
The judge said he would consider whether the pipeline should shut down while a new environmental review is being conducted at a later time, The Guardian reports.
“This decision marks an important turning point. Until now, the rights of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe have been disregarded by the builders of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Trump administration ― prompting a well-deserved global outcry,” Jan Hasselman, an attorney for the group Earthjustice, which represented the Standing Rock Sioux, said in a statement. “The federal courts have stepped in where our political systems have failed to protect the rights of Native communities.”