U.S. District Judge James Boasberg ruled Wednesday that the Army Corps of Engineers "largely complied" with environmental law when approving the pipeline but didn't adequately consider some matters important to the Standing Rock Sioux.
A federal judge ruled that the federal permits authorizing the pipeline to cross the Missouri River just upstream of the Standing Rock reservation, which were hastily issued by the Trump administration just days after the inauguration, violated the law in certain critical respects.
"This is a huge victory for the tribal nations of the Oceti Sakowin, Water Protectors around the world, and for the Indigenous leaders who led organizing efforts to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline", Dallas Goldtooth, national Keep It In the Ground organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, said in a press statement after Boasberg's decision was rendered.
But Boasberg defended numerous federal decisions that went into permuting the project, saying the Army Corps "substantially complied with [the National Environmental Policy Act] in many areas".
Boasberg wrote that the corps also did not carefully consider the controversy among experts about the pipeline's effects and possible risks. All the leaks were contained, but the incidents strengthened the pipeline opponents' case. But that could change after the judge considers further briefings from the parties.
Two previous arguments by the Standing Rock tribe - that the construction had threatened sacred sites, and that the presence of oil in the pipeline would damage sacred waters - had been rejected by the court.
Later past year, then-President Barack Obama recommended that the Army Corps of Engineers stop construction of the pipeline in order to start an environmental impact assessment before moving forward, according to the Seattle Times.
As we have previously reported, "during President Trump's first month in office, he reversed a decision by the Obama administration and called on the Army to expedite the approval process for the section of the pipeline that had not yet been built".
The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia will separately consider whether the pipeline - which is already shipping crude from North Dakota to IL - should be shut off in the meantime. The Tribe has said that an oil spill in the Missouri River could be catastrophic to them, according to PBS. The Standing Rock reservation lies just outside that boundary. The protests died off with the clearing of the main encampment in February and the completion of the pipeline.
A hearing is scheduled for next week to hear arguments from both sides.
"Under U.S. Supreme Court precedent he should apply the traditional injunction test to determine exactly what may occur - or not - during additional environmental analysis", said Zeke Williams, managing director of the energy and natural resources practice at Lewis Bess Williams & Weese in Denver. Last year, officials refused to issue a construction permit for the segment of the project that runs along federal land, opting instead to kick off a potentially-lengthy EIS review.