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Judge suspends Dakota Access pipeline over environmental concerns

A federal judge has sided with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and ordered the Dakota Access pipeline shut down until a more extensive environmental review is done.

US district judge James Boasberg said previously the pipeline, which has been in operation three years, remains “highly controversial” under federal environmental law, and a more extensive review was necessary than the environmental assessment that was done by the US Army Corps of Engineers.

In a 24-page order Monday, Boasberg wrote that he was “mindful of the disruption such a shutdown will cause”, but said he had concluded that the pipeline must be shut down.

“Clear precedent favoring vacatur during such a remand coupled with the seriousness of the Corps’ deficiencies outweighs the negative effects of halting the oil flow for the 13 months that the Corps believes the creation of an EIS will take,” Boasberg wrote.

Boasberg had ordered both parties to submit briefs on whether the pipeline should continue operating during the new environmental review.

The pipeline was the subject of months of protests, sometimes violent, during its construction near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation that straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border.

The $3.8bn, 1,172-mile underground pipeline carries oil from North Dakota across South Dakota and Iowa and to a shipping point in Illinois. Just north of the Standing Rock reservation, it crosses beneath the Missouri river. The tribe draws its water from the river and fears pollution. Texas-based Energy Transfer insists the pipeline is safe.

In December 2016, the Obama administration denied permits for the pipeline to cross the Missouri and ordered a full environmental review to analyze alternative routes and the impact on the tribe’s treaty rights.

In his first week in office, Donald Trump signed an executive order to expedite construction. Construction was completed in June 2017.

The tribe challenged the permits – and won. As a result, the corps was ordered to redo its environmental analysis, which it did without taking into consideration tribal concerns or expert views.

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