Inforum, February 13, 2017
The legal fight over the Dakota Access Pipeline river crossing near Cannon Ball, N.D., is not over, but the safe bet is that the last phase of the controversial project is a go. Two tribes are seeking a temporary injunction to stop construction near the site of months of tribal protests, but the work ramped up when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, under the prompting of the Trump administration, issued the final permits.
Two federal courts already have ruled the last phase of the pipeline can proceed. In light of those rulings—that found all legal requirements were met—there’s no telling what the judge in the most recent challenge will do. The new challenge presents a new wrinkle: the project violates tribal rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It’s a curious argument because there are several existing pipelines in the immediate area of DAPL, which apparently don’t impact religious freedom.
Nevertheless, there is no doubt about the need for DAPL. Nor is there any doubt that it is the most technically advanced and safest pipeline in the nation, likely in the world. It is, of course, statistically safer than any other means to move oil, such as railroad and truck. There have been no objections from tribes or others opposed to the pipeline to oil trains or oil-bearing semis that might cross tribal land or use roadways and rails that are near sites deemed to be sacred by the tribes.
The tribes’ call for a temporary injunction to stop the project seems shallow, weak and almost desperate; but there is no way to predict how the courts will see it. And the potential remains for protests to refire when the weather warms. The conflict—in the courts and on the ground—is not over. But the need for and safety of the pipeline are not in question.
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