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Judge Tosses Dakota Pipeline Motion Seeking to Block Construction

A federal judge has denied a motion brought by the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes seeking a preliminary injunction against an easement needed to construct the Dakota Access Pipeline.

U.S. District Judge James Boasberg wrote in a court filing Tuesday that the tribe had waited too long to raise the religious concerns upon which the motion was based.

"At this point ... the [Army] Corps has granted the permits and easement, and DAPL’s construction under Lake Oahe is days from completion," Boasberg wrote. "Rerouting the pipeline around Lake Oahe would be more costly and complicated than it would have been months or years ago, as doing so now requires not simply changing plans but abandoning part of a near-complete project and redoing the construction elsewhere."

Feb. 22: Fires breaks out at Dakota Access Pipeline site 2:13

The tribes and a number of environmental groups oppose the pipeline under construction by Energy Transfer Partners, in part, because they say it could pose a threat to their drinking water supply. The fight against the pipeline led to a months-long protest camp that drew opponents of the project from around the country.

The Army Corps of Engineers granted an easement clearing the way for the pipeline to run under Lake Oahe on Feb. 7. The motion that sought to block the easement argued "the mere existence of a crude oil pipeline under the waters of Lake Oahe [would] desecrate those waters," leaving them unsuitable for the tribe’s religious ceremonies.

Leaders of the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux — the two tribes party to the motion — described the ruling as preliminary and said it did not hurt their larger effort to block construction of the pipeline on land they consider sacred. Two additional challenges to the easement that the tribes' lawyers consider grounds for summary judgement are waiting in the wings, though they will likely not be heard until April.

Related: Dakota Pipeline Protesters Torch Tents as Deadline Passes

"Today’s ruling does not hurt the strength of our legal arguments challenging the illegal easement approved by the Trump administration," Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, said in a statement. "While this preliminary ruling is disappointing, it’s not surprising. It is very difficult to get an injunction in a case like this. The bigger legal battle is ahead — we stand strong."

Energy Transfer Partners, the pipeline’s principle parent company, could not immediately be reached for comment, but a weekly status report filed Monday by the company building the pipeline, Dakota Access, LLC, said it anticipated this portion of the pipeline will be ready to transport oil within the next two weeks.

Image:
In this Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017, photo, an abandoned teepee is surrounded by melted snow at the Dakota Access oil pipeline protest camp in southern North Dakota near Cannon Ball. Blake Nicholson / AP

Energy Transfer Partners, the pipeline’s principle parent company, could not immediately be reached for comment, but a weekly status report filed Monday by the company building the pipeline, Dakota Access, LLC, said it anticipated this portion of the pipeline will be ready to transport oil within the next two weeks.

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe has issued other challenges to the easement on different grounds.

In February, attorneys for the tribe said in court documents that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had committed to a full environmental impact statement and went back on its commitment after President Donald Trump issued a memorandum directing the Corps to "review and approve in an expedited manner" any approvals, easements or permits needed to complete the pipeline’s construction.

They argue that because an environmental impact statement was never completed, the easement is illegal. Further, the tribe says its treaties must be considered before a permit is issued by a government agency.

"The Trump administration’s issuance of the easement violates both of these legal requirements. If the pipeline goes into operation before then, it should not affect the legal proceeding," Jan Hasselman, one of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe's attorneys, said in a statement. "If the judge rules that the permits are illegal, he can shut the pipeline operation down."