Oil could be flowing through the Dakota Access Pipeline tomorrow.
A federal appeals court denied a last-ditch injunction against the pipeline
Outstanding litigation won’t stop the pipeline from becoming operational
It could be a year before the Iowa Supreme Court rules on an eminent domain lawsuit
North Dakota’s sweet, light crude could be flowing through the furiously-contended Dakota Access Pipeline as early as Monday, thanks to a federal appeals court’s decision to throw out an “emergency” order from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in a Hail Mary attempt to halt the project’s completion.
Three judges on a panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit aligned with a previous ruling by District Judge James Boasberg in that the tribe failed to the “stringent requirements” necessary to order an injunction.
“Upon consideration of the emergency motion for injunction pending appeal, the oppositions thereto, and the reply, it is ORDERED that the motion for injunction be denied,” wrote the judges in the ruling. “Appellant has not satisfied the stringent requirements for an injunction pending appeal.”
After exhausting several other avenues — the 1,172-mile pipeline violates established treaties with the U.S. government, decimates sacred sites, and breaks environmental laws — the tribes attempted to argue Dakota Access breaches the U.S. Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, in that the land and water are considered sacred, and could be desecrated by the infrastructure or its malfunction.
Appeals Judge Patricia Millett ruled that premise for an injunction didn’t have sufficient legal teeth absent a ruling in a separate court proceeding.
Dakota Access LLC, the subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners responsible for construction, has stated in its most recent progress report the pipeline could be transporting oil sometime between Monday and Wednesday this week.
That, despite myriad litigation still mired in courts across the four states — North and South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois — the Dakota Access Pipeline traverses.
With the Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes essentially out of options to halt the project, one potentially promising court case in Iowa could be the last hope of the movement to protect water and end the disputatious project — but with a decision at least one year away, Big Oil has plenty of time to profit.
Likewise, 12 months present plenty of time to prove water protectors justified in their concerns a leak would spew large quantities of oil into the water and environment from the enormous 30-inch pipeline.
Escaping the heft of media attention, given the violence inflicted by police against unarmed and largely peaceful water protectors at what generally became known as Standing Rock, Dakota Access’ route through Iowa — with its egregious manipulation of the government’s untenable power of eminent domain — has been the subject of controversy and protest even before the first camps were erected near the banks of the Missouri River’s Lake Oahe reservoir in April 2016.
Iowan homeowners in the path of the pipeline have lost the rights to their property under the factious government permission slip — which, per Iowa law, must only be employed for public utility or the public good — but Dakota Access, argue the lawyers and facts, serves no interest to the public, whatsoever.
Indeed, political and financial wrangling behind the scenes in the H.R. 2029 omnibus bill ahead of the announcement on the Dakota Access Pipeline project ensured the unrefined crude oil flowing to a connection point in Illinois and south to the Gulf of Mexico would be exportable for company profit — something unheard of since the oil embargo of the 1970s led to a ban on the export of this specific hydrocarbon.
Governor Terry Branstad has, in fact, been instrumental in commandeering Iowans’ private property to house the pipeline — despite the fact DAPL oil will not be used to break the U.S. of foreign oil dependence, will not aid any public utility, and will do nothing soever for non-investor, non-industry parties.
Branstad appoints members to the Iowa Utility Board, which in turn granted right-of-way for the pipeline, in a move aptly characterized as the darkest of legally gray — particularly taking into account the governor’s ties to Energy Transfer Partners, as well as to ETP board member and Big Oil cheerleader, former Texas Governor Rick Perry.
That unusual arrangement greenlighted pipeline construction, but brought a number of lawsuits from homeowners incensed to be forced to let ETP devalue their properties — and although a pittance sum has been offered as per custom, residents insist the totals don’t even approach the notoriety of oil infrastructure on site, nor the possibility a leak could permanently contaminate the land.
Questionable use of eminent domain now lies in the hands of the Iowa Supreme Court — but it could be well over a year before the case comes under review — meaning that even if this legal avenue bears fruit, it will likely be at least a year before the legitimacy of operations for Dakota Access under the government’s official property theft program can be determined.
“That the courts have over the years, come to believe that they basically cannot challenge a decision of the administrative body. That they have to give great deference to the administrative body,” explained Wally Taylor, attorney for the Iowa Sierra Club, quoted by WHO-TV. “That’s not true — they’re a co-equal branch of the government, they’re supposed to be a check and a balance. That’s what we’re asking the Supreme Court to do.”
A plethora of legal challenges to Dakota Access — and opposition intended to protect the water supply from oil contamination that spawned a worldwide movement against fossil fuels and focused international attention on the mistreatment of Indigenous peoples — mean even though the fraught project nears completion, the pipeline will remain entrenched in a legal morass for some time to come.
Although the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe holds sovereign rights to the land and water through which the pipeline crosses, the refusal of the United States government to honor Native American treaties has been on shameful display over the last two years.
Looking to previous rulings, it appears that, regardless of ongoing legal actions, the Dakota Access Pipeline is fated to line the pockets of Energy Transfer Partners and its investors — while trampling some of our most basic rights into oblivion.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.