Dakota Access Pipeline Fight Back In Court, Judge Denies Plea To Block Last Link

The battle over the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline headed back to court on Monday. That’s when a judge heard new arguments from the Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes, begging the court to halt the final link in the construction of the disputed pipeline. According to the Native American tribes fighting against the multi-billion dollar project, it compromises their access to clean, fresh water.

In their new court filing, the tribes argued that lack of clean water could compromise their religious freedom by preventing them from performing various religious ceremonies at Lake Ohae, where the final stretch of the Dakota Access Pipeline is slated to be laid. The pipeline is scheduled and expected to run under the lake, which the Standing Rock Sioux and other local Native American tribes claim is surrounded by “sacred” land.

Previous court filings by potentially affected tribes had made no mention of the Dakota Access Pipeline potentially compromising their ability to freely practice their religion. Protests against the 1,170-mile-long crude oil causeway have, in the past, cited potential water contamination and environmental devastation if the pipeline fails. Further, the Standing Rock Sioux (who have led the headline-grabbing protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline for nearly a year) claim that installing the pipeline has damaged and even destroyed ancient sacred sites, including burial grounds.


As Reuters reports, Monday’s legal filing, seen by many as a desperate and last-ditch attempt to stall or even prevent the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline, was heard by Judge James Boasberg of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. Before the hearing, an attorney for the Native American tribes spoke to the media, contending that the Dakota Access Pipeline would obstruct “free exercise” of religion if it is allowed to be completed.

“We are contending that the waters of Lake Oahe are sacred to Cheyenne River and all of its members, and that the very presence of a pipeline, not only construction but possible oil flow through that pipeline, would obstruct the free exercise of our religious practices.”

The purpose of Monday’s hearing was to convince Judge Boasberg to block the continued construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline with a temporary restraining order on the religious grounds cited above. Construction on the pipeline has been stalled out for months, and at the end of December it appeared that protesters against the Dakota Access Pipeline had gotten their way when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (headed by the Obama administration) rescinded a vital easement allowing the oil company to drill and lay pipe under Lake Oahe.

The victory of the Standing Rock Sioux and other #NoDAPL protesters was a short-lived one. As one of his first acts as a new POTUS, Donald Trump signed an executive order giving the green-light to complete the multi-state project. Last week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that the Dakota Access Pipeline easement would be granted. To add insult to injury, the Army didn’t bother with the requisite environmental impact study.

All that is required to bring the Dakota Access Pipeline to completion is a mere 1,100-foot link under Lake Oahe, which is an artificial lake along the Missouri River system. As TIME reports, construction on the final link in the Dakota Access Pipeline chain began last Wednesday. Amid the renewed effort to complete the project, the Standing Rock Sioux and other tribe vowed to continue their legal battle through the courts. Protesters, who remain at Standing Rock by the hundreds, vowed to stand their ground against the project.

U.S. military veterans even raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and had begun heading back to North Dakota to lend their bodies as human shields to protect protesters struggling to prevent the Dakota Access Pipeline from ever running under Lake Oahe.

Before heading to court Monday, it was widely anticipated that the legal team representing the Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes would have a tough time proving their case to Judge Boasberg and getting the restraining order they so desperately sought. After all, the Washington D.C. judge was the same man who denied the tribes’ request to halt the pipeline project last September.

A quick court hearing proved that those concerned about the ability to secure a restraining order in the Dakota Access Pipeline case were right to be worried. Judge Boasberg unceremoniously denied the Native American tribes’ legal request with little time wasted.

According to the Army Corps, the Dakota Access Pipeline will be completed along its scheduled route as planned. In fact, the Corps has vowed to close Standing Rock protest camps along the Cannonball River (at least those on federal lands) after February 22.

Protesters against the Dakota Access Pipeline have yet to publicly comment on Monday’s decision, or if protesters will continue attempts to remain at their camps if the Army attempts to remove them later this month.

[Featured Image by David Goldman/AP Images]

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