Biden administration defers to courts on Dakota Access Pipeline shutdown
LoggaWiggler / Pixabay
Biden administration defers to courts on Dakota Access Pipeline shutdown

The Biden administration’s Army Corps of Engineers indicated on Friday that they would not stop the flow of oil through the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) despite the threat it poses to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s water supply. The project is currently operating without a federal permit.

DC District Court Judge James Boasberg shut down the project in July and ordered operators to drain the oil supply running through the pipeline while the government conducted an environmental review to determine the risk to Lake Oahe, the primary water source for the tribe and other residents downstream. The pipeline runs underneath the lake and a leak has the potential to poison the supply. However, subsequent courts overturned this order and allowed the pipeline to continue operating without addressing the environmental risk.

Then in January, the DC Court of Appeals again ruled that the US Army Corps of Engineers violated federal regulations when they issued a permit that allowed the pipeline to run underneath the lake. But the court did not require the DAPL to cease operations during the new environmental study, leaving it up to the Biden administration to decide whether to stop the flow of oil through the pipeline.

The Biden administration signaled at Friday’s hearing that they did not intend to require the pipeline to be drained during the environmental impact study period. Army Corps lawyer Ben Schifman said they are “essentially in a continuous process of evaluating” the pipeline and that the decision may change based on “continuing discretion.”

Mike Faith, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, said, “We are gravely concerned about the continued operation of this pipeline, which poses an unacceptable risk to our sovereign nation.” Faith said the Biden administration told the tribe they wanted to “get this right” but were disappointed by their decision on Friday to “ignore [their] pleas and stick to the wrong path.”

Pipeline operator Energy Transfer now has until April 19 to argue in favor of allowing oil to continue to flow. The court will then decide whether to allow pipeline operation during the review period.