A federal appeals court on Tuesday put on hold a judge's order that the Dakota Access Pipeline be shut down and emptied of oil by Aug. 5, though the move is not the final decision on whether the line will be shuttered while an extensive environmental review is conducted.
The temporary halt was issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. It will remain in place until the court rules on whether pipeline developer Energy Transfer can keep the oil flowing while the court decides its appeal of U.S. District Judge James Boasberg's July 6 shutdown order.
The "administrative stay" issued Tuesday "should not be construed in any way as a ruling on the merits," the order said.
Pipeline supporter GAIN Coalition, which includes businesses, trade associations and labor groups, hailed the court's order as a victory, calling it "a key step forward in reaffirming the Dakota Access Pipeline's critical role in the American energy infrastructure network." U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., another supporter, called the temporary halt "common sense."
Earthjustice attorney Jan Hasselman, who represents the Standing Rock Sioux, said the move is typical and not significant.
"It's important to recognize: An administrative stay is not in any way indicative of how the court is going to rule -- it just buys the court a little additional time to make a decision," he said in a statement to the Tribune. "They are very typical in these kinds of situations."
Hasselman noted that the same court in 2016 issued an administrative injunction against pipeline construction that was in place for three weeks, "but they ultimately denied the injunction once the issue was briefed and argued."
"We look forward to the opportunity to explain why the district court got this right," Hasselman said.
The court set a Monday deadline for the Standing Rock Sioux and other tribes that are fighting the pipeline in court to file a response to Energy Transfer's request. Replies to their arguments are due July 23.
The next major decision will be on whether Energy Transfer wins a stay of Boasberg's shutdown order pending the company's appeal. If it does, the line will continue operating until the appeal is decided. If the company loses, it could ask the U.S. Supreme Court to wade into the dispute.
The environmental review of the pipeline ordered by Boasberg in March is expected to take the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 13 months to complete. The Corps, which permitted the pipeline, and Energy Transfer maintain that it's safe. The tribes worry a potential spill from the line could contaminate the Missouri River, which they rely on for drinking, fishing and religious practices. The $3.8 billion pipeline has been moving North Dakota oil to a shipping point in Illinois for three years.
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