The future of the controversial Dakota Access pipeline has been thrown into question after a federal court on Wednesday struck down its permits and ordered a comprehensive environmental review.
The US army corps of engineers was ordered to conduct a full environmental impact statement (EIS), after the Washington DC court ruled hat existing permits violated the National Environmental Policy Act (Nepa).
The ruling is a huge victory for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe of North Dakota, which rallied support from across the world and sued the US government in a campaign to stop the environmentally risky pipeline being built on tribal lands.
“After years of commitment to defending our water and earth, we welcome this news of a significant legal win,” said the tribal chairman, Mike Faith. “It’s humbling to see how actions we took to defend our ancestral homeland continue to inspire national conversations about how our choices ultimately affect this planet.”
In December 2016, the Obama administration denied permits for the pipeline to cross the Missouri river and ordered a full EIS 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 of the 1,200-mile pipeline was completed in June 2017.
The pipeline continued to transport oil from North Dakota to Illinois. The tribe and EarthJustice, an environmental law not-for-profit group, sued again.
In his ruling on Tuesday, the federal judge James Boasberg, an Obama appointee, said the environmental analysis by both the companies behind the pipeline and the corps was severely lacking.
The abysmal safety record of the pipeline parent company, Sunoco, “does not inspire confidence”, he added.
The court-mandated EIS will be more in depth than the assessment already completed by the corps – and could take years. The court will next decide if the pipeline should be shut down until the EIS is done.
The corps did not respond to a request for comment.
“This validates everything the tribe has been saying all along about the risk of oil spills to the people of Standing Rock,” said Jan Hasselman, an EarthJustice attorney. “The Obama administration had it right when it moved to deny the permits in 2016.”
The setback for the pipeline comes as the Trump administration moves to severely curtail Nepa, the 1969 legislation which is widely considered the cornerstone of US environmental protection. Trump has repeatedly blamed Nepa for blocking fossil fuel projects.