A federal judge denied a Native American tribe's request to temporarily block construction of the four-state Dakota Access oil pipeline, which has sparked heated protests. But the U.S. Justice Department responded to the ruling by announcing steps to protect — for now — a lake along the construction route.
Judge James Boasberg of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., decided that there is not enough evidence to support the argument that building the pipeline would harm the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which sued to stop the pipeline's construction.
Boasberg's ruling showed sympathy for the tribe's history but disagreed with the lawsuit's contention that the Army Corps of Engineers erred in its granting permits for the pipeline.
"Aware of the indignities visited upon the tribe over the last centuries, the court scrutinizes the permitting process here with particular care," Boasberg wrote. "Having done so, the court must nonetheless conclude that the tribe has not demonstrated that an injunction is warranted here." A status conference for the case is scheduled for Sept. 16.
The Departments of Justice, the Interior and the Army weighed in immediately after the ruling's release with an announcement that the Corps will at least temporarily halt authorization for construction of the pipeline around Lake Oahe while it reviews its decisions regarding the large reservoir. The government requested that Dakota Access, the Texas-based company building the pipeline, voluntarily pause construction within 20 miles of Lake Oahe.
The federal government also announced that the case highlights the need to consider "nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes' views on these types of infrastructure projects."
A representative for Dakota Access declined requests for comment on the ruling and the government's announcement.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe welcomed the government's announcement, calling it a "game changer."
"The federal court ruled against the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe today, but in a stunning move, three federal agencies have blocked the pipeline at Lake Oahe, pending a thorough review and reconsideration of the process," the tribe said in a statement on its Facebook page
"This federal statement is a game changer for the tribe, and we are acting immediately on our legal options, including filing an appeal and a temporary injunction to force [Dakota Access] to stop construction," the statement continued.
Lake Oahe is environmentally and culturally important to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and the pipeline would cross under the lake, which is just upstream from the tribe's reservation, according to the tribe's complaint in the lawsuit.
"The tribe relies on the waters of Lake Oahe for drinking water, irrigation, fishing and recreation and to carry out cultural and religious practices. The public water supply for the tribe, which provides drinking water for thousands of people, is located a few miles downstream of the proposed pipeline crossing route."
"Additionally, the cultural and religious significance of these waters cannot be overstated," the tribe states in its court complaint. "Construction of the pipeline ... and building and burying the pipeline would destroy burial grounds, sacred sites and historically significant areas on either side of Lake Oahe," the complaint states.
The planned 1,172-mile Dakota Access pipeline will run from North Dakota and South Dakota into Iowa and Illinois.
The tribe argues in its lawsuit that the Army Corps of Engineers failed to adequately consult it before granting permits that allowed construction of the pipeline, which began earlier this summer about a half-mile north of the tribe's reservation in North Dakota.
The pipeline company and the Corps argue in court documents that they followed a standard review process.
Conflict over the pipeline escalated last weekend when private security workers for Dakota Access and protesters against the project clashed at a North Dakota construction site.
Before the announcement of the ruling, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman David Archambault II said that no matter the outcome, opponents of the pipeline should remain peaceful.
"We call upon all water protectors to greet any decision with peace and order. Even if the outcome of the court’s ruling is not in our favor, we will continue to explore every lawful option and fight against the construction of the pipeline," Archambault said.
"Any act of violence hurts our cause and is not welcome here," he said.
In anticipation of possible protests after the ruling, North Dakota's governor called on the state's National Guard to help law enforcement, it said in a statement today.
"Personnel from the North Dakota National Guard have been called upon by the governor to support law enforcement and augment public safety efforts, in light of recent activity with the Dakota Access pipeline protest," the statement said. "The guard members will serve in administrative capacities and assist in providing security at traffic information points. The guardsmen will not be going to the actual protest site."
Dakota Access says on its website that it expects the pipeline to transport about 470,000 barrels of crude oil every day from production areas in North Dakota’s Bakken and Three Forks production areas through South Dakota, Iowa and into Illinois, as well as create thousands of construction jobs and generate millions of dollars in tax revenue for those states.