May 2020 Church & State Magazine | AU Bulletin

Members of a Native American tribe that owns land in parts of North and South Dakota have won a ruling from a federal court that could open up a controversial pipeline project to new scrutiny.

The oil pipeline runs from North Dakota to Illinois. Native Americans in the Dakotas who live near it have argued that a spill could affect the Missouri River, which they use for drinking water, fishing and religious ceremonies, reported The New York Times. Some tribe members have argued that water and land are sacred resources they are religiously compelled to protect.

Ruling in late March, U.S. District Court Judge James E. Boasberg found that the pipeline’s “effects on the quality of the human environment are likely to be highly controversial.” Boasberg also determined that the federal government hadn’t done a thorough enough job of determining what might happen if there were a major spill in the area. He ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to undertake a more extensive environmental review and prepare a detailed impact statement.

In 2016, members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe sued to block construction of the pipeline. They won a victory when the Obama administration announced it would seek an alternative route for the pipeline.

But when President Donald Trump took office, he reversed course and ordered that the pipeline be constructed along the original pathway in an expedited manner. Oil has been flowing through the pipeline since June 2017.

Boasberg said he will decide later whether the pipeline should be shut off during the environmental review. (Standing Rock Sioux Tribe v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)