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Obama administration steps in after Judge OKs contested North Dakota oil pipeline

By Daniel J. Graeber and Doug G. Ware
Obama administration steps in after Judge OKs contested North Dakota oil pipeline
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe called for peace as the North Dakota National Guard was called in to help keep protests under control ahead of court's decision on construction of the Dakota Access pipeline. Photo by Heinz Ruckemann/UPI | License Photo

FORT YATES, N.D., Sept. 9 (UPI) -- A federal judge ruled Friday that construction could resume on a controversial oil pipeline in North Dakota, despite serious concerns from a native Sioux tribe -- a decision partly in conflict with President Barack Obama's administration.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has been contesting the pipeline's construction for weeks out of concern for environmental and human safety. The ordeal escalated earlier Friday when North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple called in the National Guard to help keep the protests under control.

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The tribe believes the new pipeline threatens sacred Sioux lands and the water supply for residents in the state. U.S. District Judge Judge James Boasberg didn't agree.

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"The Tribe fears that construction of the pipeline, which runs within half a mile of its reservation in North and South Dakota, will destroy sites of cultural and historical significance. It has now filed a Motion for Preliminary Injunction, asserting principally that the Corps flouted its duty to engage in tribal consultations under the National Historic Preservation Act and that irreparable harm will ensue," Boasberg wrote in his decision. "After digging through a substantial record on an expedited basis, the Court cannot concur."

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"The Corps has likely complied with the NHPA and that the Tribe has not shown it will suffer injury," he continued.

A short time after the ruling, however, the U.S. Departments of Justice, the Army and the Interior issued a joint statement announcing they had put a stop to the pipe's construction in the Lake Oahe area -- the place at the center of the tribe's concerns.

"Important issues raised by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other tribal nations and their members regarding the Dakota Access pipeline specifically, and pipeline-related decision-making generally, remain," the statement said.

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"The Army will not authorize constructing the Dakota Access pipeline on Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe until it can determine whether it will need to reconsider any of its previous decisions ... under the National Environmental Policy Act or other federal laws," it continued. "Therefore, construction of the pipeline on Army Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe will not go forward at this time. ... In the interim, we request that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity."


Standing Rock Sioux Tribe/Facebook

The Standing Rock Tribe reacted to the government's action with surprise.

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RELATED Tribe not satisfied with brief halt to Dakota Access pipeline

"This federal statement is a game changer for the Tribe and we are acting immediately on our legal options, including filing an appeal and a temporary injunction to force DAPL to stop construction," it said in a Facebook post Friday.

Tribal groups are suing federal regulators over permits for the 1,134-mile pipeline because of threats to the Missouri River and other regional water ways. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which examined separately each water crossing, is accused of sidelining tribal interest.

In a letter to President Obama, tribal and environmental groups said the oil pipeline poses a threat to their existence.

The issue has received attention from current and former U.S. presidential candidates. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., put Dakota Access on the same footing as Keystone XL oil pipeline, which the White House denied in part on environmental grounds.

RELATED Dakota Access Pipeline poses an 'existential' threat, groups says in letter to Obama

At its peak, Dakota Access would transport about half of the oil that North Dakota produces per day, or around 570,000 barrels per day. Much of the oil leaving North Dakota now does so by rail, a transport method also under scrutiny because of deadly derailments in past years.

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"This case has highlighted the need for a serious discussion on whether there should be nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes' views on these types of infrastructure projects," the government statement said.

Energy Transfer Partners, the group behind the project, has already started soliciting commitments to help transport North Dakota oil through the system.

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