A contentious battle over a North Dakota oil pipeline took a series of hairpin turns Friday when the Obama administration effectively reversed a federal judge's decision and ordered a halt to construction.
The Departments of Justice, Army and Interior released a joint statement within an hour of Judge James Boasberg's decision rejecting a plea by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe to issue a preliminary injunction to stop work on the $3.8-billion, 1,200-mile Dakota Access pipeline.
The developments come on the heels of the issuance of an arrest warrant for Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein in connection with protests at the project site.
The announcement by President Barack Obama's administration will stop construction on a key section of the pipeline near the tribe's reservation.
“The Army will not authorize constructing the Dakota Access pipeline on Corps (of Engineers) 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 joint statement said. “Therefore, construction of the pipeline on Army Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe will not go forward at this time.”
The federal government requested that the pipeline company, Dakota Access, pause all its construction activities within 20 miles west or east of Lake Oahe.
The tribe had previously filed a motion in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia contending that the Corps of Engineers had failed to fully consult with the tribe about the pipeline project under the terms of the National Historic Preservation Act.
Friday's announcements come amid increasingly confrontational protests against the project, which will transport oil produced in the Bakken and Three Forks fields of North Dakota to a terminal in Illinois.
On Wednesday, a North Dakota district court issued warrants of arrest for both Stein and her running mate, Ajamu Baraka, on two misdemeanor counts: criminal trespass and criminal mischief.
The Morton County Sheriff’s Department published a copy of the warrant against Stein on its Facebook page this week, along with a photo showing her spray-painting a bulldozer at the construction site. Although Stein’s campaign did not immediately respond to AMI Newswire’s requests for comment, the candidate posted a statement on her website on Wednesday.
“I hope the North Dakota authorities press charges against the real vandalism taking place at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation: the bulldozing of sacred burial sites and the unleashing of vicious attack dogs,” Stein said. “I hope they take action against the Dakota Access pipeline company that is endangering drinking water not only for the Standing Rock Sioux, but for millions of people downstream of the reservation ...”
Stein also acknowledged that she spray-painted the words “I approve this message” on a bulldozer that, she said, had been used to destroy sacred American Indian burial sites.
In numerous court filings over the past week, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe have alleged that the company overseeing the pipeline construction, Dakota Access, has engaged in the destruction of lands that have cultural and historical significance for the tribe.
Tribal Chairman David Archambault II posted a video on the tribe's Facebook page urging everyone affected by the protests to avoid verbal abuse and violence. Previous incidents of violence in the area where construction is occurring were provoked by the company, Archambault said.
A news release issued by the tribe last weekend said that construction crews removed topsoil in a swath about 150 feet wide and spanning two miles, in an area northwest of the Missouri and Cannon Ball rivers.
“This demolition is devastating,” Archambault said in a prepared statement. “These grounds are the resting places of our ancestors. The ancient cairns and stone prayer rings there cannot be replaced. In one day, our sacred land has been turned into hollow ground.”
Tribal leaders have also charged that the pipeline threatens the health of 17 million people who depend on the Missouri River for water.
In court papers filed this week, Dakota Access strongly denied all the allegations made by tribal leaders. It said that recent construction activities had occurred on private property outside of federal jurisdiction.
“Dakota Access LLC … is not destroying and has not destroyed any evidence or important historical sites,” one court filing said.
The company also denies any responsibility for the violence. In court papers, it claims that protesters illegally blocked traffic on both lanes of Highway 1806, broke down fences bordering the construction site and assaulted private security personnel hired to protect pipeline workers.
“It is undisputed that plaintiffs were the aggressors and violated numerous laws in their efforts to stop the pipeline,” the company stated.
“Plaintiffs cannot now stop or delay this project by violating the law, engaging in guerrilla legal tactics, and/or attempting to do what they should have done two years ago.”
The company and pipeline supporters have said that the Standing Rock Sioux tribe failed to take part in the environmental-review process for the pipeline project in previous years, and opponents are now staging an 11th-hour legal battle about issues that could have been addressed during the review process.
“The Standing Rock Sioux tribe did not participate in public-comment meetings in North Dakota, did not submit written testimony in opposition to the project, and refused to meet with officials from the Dakota Access project on seven different invitations,” said Dr. Jack Rafuse, a former White House energy adviser, in a recent blog post.
Prior to Friday’s court decision, Republican North Dakota Rep. Kevin Cramer said in a prepared statement, “There might be further appeal opportunities for whoever loses. There might even be new negotiations that surface as part of this. Do it all, but do it peacefully and do it lawfully.”
Supporters have argued that the pipeline will free up rail transport space for agricultural production, provide up to 12,000 jobs during the construction phase and provide environmentally sound and cost-effective transport for domestic oil.
About 70 percent of crude oil and petroleum products in the United States are currently shipped via pipelines, Dakota Access reports.