Editor’s Note: This story was revised at 7 p.m. EDT to include a statement from Archambault.
CORRECTION: It was the Department of the Army, which oversees the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, that joined two other federal agencies in requesting a halt to construction. Story has been changed to reflect that.
Shortly after federal Judge James Boasberg denied the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s request for an injunction against the Dakota Access oil pipeline, the U.S. Department of the Interior, Department of Justice and the Department of the Army issued a joint statement that, in effect, temporarily halts all construction bordering Lake Oahe on the Missouri.
The tribe had sought an injunction to stop the routing of the Dakota Access oil pipeline underneath the Missouri River, the source of the reservation’s drinking water, on the grounds that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had failed to conduct a proper environmental and cultural impact study. While acknowledging that damage had been done to an area sacred to the tribe, Boasberg said that the tribe had not made its case for an injunction.
“This Court does not lightly countenance any depredation of lands that hold significance to the Standing Rock Sioux,” Boasberg concluded at the end of a 58-page ruling. “Aware of the indignities visited upon the Tribe over the last centuries, the Court scrutinizes the permitting process here with particular care. Having done so, the Court must nonetheless conclude that the Tribe has not demonstrated that an injunction is warranted here. The Court, therefore, will issue a contemporaneous Order denying the Plaintiffs’ Motion for Preliminary Injunction.”
The judge acknowledged the complexity of the case at several points in his decision, which was based on how federal law, consultation and permitting all come to affect lands of varying levels of legally-defined historic significance.
Shortly after Judge Boasberg’s decision, the three government agencies stepped in, suggesting that a change in process may be in order when it comes to how the courts and federal law view Indian land.
“We appreciate the District Court’s opinion on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act,” the joint announcement stated. “However, 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 agencies called for “serious discussion on whether there should be nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes’ views on these types of infrastructure projects.” The statement announced “formal, government-to-government consultations” this fall that would examine what the federal government can do “to ensure meaningful tribal input into infrastructure-related reviews and decisions and the protection of tribal lands, resources, and treaty rights,” and whether new legislation was needed to meet the goal of meaningful consultation.
The agencies outlined several steps to address the issues raised by the Standing Rock Sioux in its July 27 lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ approval of the $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile-long pipeline.
“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 regarding the Lake Oahe site under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or other federal laws,” the statement said. “Therefore, construction of the pipeline on Army Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe will not go forward at this time. The Army will move expeditiously to make this determination, as everyone involved—including the pipeline company and its workers—deserves a clear and timely resolution. In the interim, we request that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe.”
Standing Rock had sued the Corps on July 27 alleging violations of several federal laws, including the Clean Water Act, the National Historic Protection Act and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), in its approval of the permits.
Standing Rock Sioux Chairman David Archambault II expressed elation and gratitude.
“Our hearts are full. This an historic day for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and for tribes across the nation,” Archambault said in a statement. “Today, three federal agencies announced the significant decision to respect tribal sovereignty and stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline on Army Corps land.”
While noting that the fight to stop the pipeline’s progress through Treaty lands was not over, he said that at least the tribe would get a fair hearing.
“Our voices have been heard,” said Archambault. “The Obama administration has asked tribes to the table to make sure that we have meaningful consultation on infrastructure projects. Native peoples have suffered generations of broken promises and today the federal government said that national reform is needed to better ensure that tribes have a voice on infrastructure projects like this pipeline.
“I walk through the camps and I am filled with gratitude for the love and care that thousands have shown in this fight,” he said. “I want to share with supporters that we at Standing Rock are thankful. We are blessed by your continued support. Let us remain in peace and solidarity as we work to permanently protect our water.”
In its closing paragraph, the statement by Interior, Justice and ACOE called for a calm and peaceful resolution.
“Finally, we fully support the rights of all Americans to assemble and speak freely,” the statement said. “In recent days, we have seen thousands of demonstrators come together peacefully, with support from scores of sovereign tribal governments, to exercise their First Amendment rights and to voice heartfelt concerns about the environment and historic, sacred sites. It is now incumbent on all of us to develop a path forward that serves the broadest public interest.”