In 2016, we witnessed an incredible environmental movement as people from all over the world flew to Standing Rock to stand in solidarity, fighting against the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL). Though President Obama halted construction of the pipeline in response to the overwhelming number of protestors, President Trump shifted the waters by ordering the pipeline to move forward.
On April 6, the pipeline suffered its first major spill, dumping 84 gallons of crude oil at a South Dakota pump station. The spill occurred during the final stages of preparation, meaning the pipeline wasn’t even fully up and running before it had its first spill. This careless spill could easily have been prevented if the courts and the government had simply listened to the concerns of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other environmental activists.
Well, perhaps their voices will finally be heard now that a federal judge ruled in favour of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe on Wednesday, representing the tribe’s first legal victory against the DAPL.
First Big Win in Court Against the DAPL
James Boasberg, who sits on D.C. district court, explained that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not sufficiently present the DAPL’s potential environmental consequences when it first approved the pipeline. The judge referred to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ study on “the impacts of an oil spill on fishing rights, hunting rights, or environmental justice” as being incomplete and inadequate, and then he ordered them to create an entirely new report based on an accurate portrayal of the environmental risks involved with construction and implementation.
“This is a a very significant victory and vindication of the tribe’s opinion,” stated Jan Hasselman, the lead attorney on the case and Earthjustice employee, an environmental rights group that represented the Standing Rock Sioux.
“The court slices things pretty thin, but there were three major areas that he found deficient, and they’re not insignificant. They’re central to the problems that we’ve been highlighting the whole time,” Hasselman said in a statement for The Atlantic.
The judge noted that the tribe was guaranteed specific hunting and fishing rights in their latest treaty with the U.S. government, as the tribe relies on fish and other hunted animals as a primary source of food, but the study never addressed whether or not a spill would affect their hunting abilities.
In addition, if there were a spill, the study would need to include whether the chemicals used to clean up a potential future spill would harm any of the local animals, which could prevent the tribe from hunting or safely consuming them. The other issues mentioned related to the methodology of the study.
“Even though a spill is not certain to occur at Lake Oahe, the Corps still had to consider the impacts of such an event on the environment,” the judge said.
Despite the fact that the pipeline was not ordered to be shut down, this is still a huge victory against the DAPL, although not everyone is seeing it that way. People have been quick to point out that just because the judge ruled for another study, doesn’t mean that the new findings will ever result in the entire pipeline being shut down.
Nevertheless, it provides a stroke of hope amongst environmental activists fighting against the DAPL.
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