The federal judge overseeing a tribal lawsuit against the Dakota Access Pipeline is allowing nine groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Congress of American Indians to weigh in on whether federal officials who permitted the pipeline properly consulted tribes.
Texas-based pipeline developer Dakota Access unsuccessfully opposed the groups’ request, arguing that the issue of tribal consultation has already been resolved.
U.S. District Judge James Boasberg, in Washington, D.C., also is allowing 14 other tribes from Washington state to Florida to provide input in the lawsuit filed by four Sioux tribes in the Dakotas. Those tribes fear a spill from the $3.8 billion pipeline that’s moving North Dakota oil to Illinois could contaminate the Missouri River, which they rely on for drinking water, fishing and religious practices.
The Standing Rock, Cheyenne River, Oglala and Yankton Sioux all recently filed what amounts to their final legal arguments in the three-year-old case. They want Boasberg to order the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to shut down the pipeline and do more environmental study.
The group of intervenors that includes the ACLU and the 14 other tribes argues that the Corps has not adequately considered tribal views. The agency “ignored the extensive body of materials amassed by the tribes regarding the potential impacts of an oil spill on fishing rights, hunting rights, or environmental justice,” attorney Michael Sklaire wrote.
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Corps attorneys did not file any documents with the court taking a position on the request of the groups and tribes to intervene. The agency has repeatedly maintained it properly consulted with tribes, however.
Energy Transfer attorneys argued against the request, saying the matter of tribal consultation “is hardly a new issue in the case.”
Boasberg in late August issued a two-sentence order allowing the groups and tribes to submit their arguments. He did not elaborate on his reasoning. His decision isn't likely to delay the resolution of the case, as the groups and tribes have already made their arguments. It will just provide more information for the judge to consider.
The lawsuit has lingered since July 2016. The Corps and Energy Transfer have until Nov. 20 to file their final arguments. Boasberg will then decide at a later date whether to order even more study of the pipeline. Should he decline, the four suing tribes are likely to appeal.