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Court Strikes Down Dakota Access Pipeline Permits in a Victory for Standing Rock Tribe

Activists celebrate at Oceti Sakowin Camp on the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on December 4, 2016 outside Cannon Ball, North Dakota. The Army Corps of Engineers told Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Archambault Sunday that the current route for the Dakota Access pipeline will be denied. / AFP / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

Yesterday saw a significant victory in the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s battle against the Dakota Access Pipeline, in a conflict that has been going on for years with Indigenous people, environmental groups and activists on one side, and the oil companies and US Army Corps of Engineers on the other.

If it feels like this is an update on something that’s been going on for a while, you’re not wrong. The Standing Rock protests against the planned Dakota Access Pipeline began in April 2016. The DAPL was planned to pipe crude oil from the Bakken oil field in North Dakota to a refinery in Illinois.

The tribe literally stood in the way of the pipeline, protesting that the environmental damage from the project would be far worse than the environmental impact the builders claimed, and that it would be a danger to their land and water. The protests gained global attention as activists from across the country gathered in North Dakota. In what felt like a victory at the time, in December of 2016 the Obama administration denied the permit for the DAPL.

But Donald Trump, cartoon villain that he is, reversed that. Construction continued and was completed in June of 2017, but the battle was far from over. The Standing Rock tribe challenged the permits in court and won, and the Army Corps of Engineers was forced to re-do their environmental impact analysis. But they refused to involve the tribe in the process, said it was fine, and kept up operations.

In the ruling on Wednesday, Federal Judge James Boasberg found that the environmental analysis was lacking both times and struck down the federal permits for the pipeline. The court, according to Earth Justice, who helped bring the suit, “found significant unresolved concerns about the potential impacts of oil spills and the likelihood that one could take place.”

The judge did not immediately halt the operation of the DAPL, but asked the parties to prepare additional briefings as to if such an order should be issued. In his ruling, Judge Boasberg cited the terrible safety record of the DAPL parent company and the failures of their methods and analysis to this point. Their failure is especially evident since the DAPL has been leaking and spilling since it went into operation.

“After years of commitment to defending our water and earth, we welcome this news of a significant legal win,” said Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Mike Faith, via Earth Justice. “It’s humbling to see how actions we took four years ago to defend our ancestral homeland continue to inspire national conversations about how our choices ultimately affect this planet. Perhaps in the wake of this court ruling, the federal government will begin to catch on, too, starting by actually listening to us when we voice our concerns.”

In a time when there is a lot of bad news full of bad people doing bad things, this win for the good guys is especially inspiring. This is a victory in a battle that seemed lost many times, but the fight for right went on. And this time, the right side won. Let’s hope that this win sticks and is just the first of many.

(via Earth Justice, Image: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

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Jessica Mason (she/her) is a writer based in Portland, Oregon with a focus on fandom, queer representation, and amazing women in film and television. She's a trained lawyer and opera singer as well as a mom and author.