Dalton Walker
Indian Country Today

A federal appeals court has upheld a key ruling against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The U.S Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued a ruling Tuesday upholding a federal court’s decision that revoked a key pipeline permit and required a more extensive environmental study. The ruling does not require the pipeline to shut down or be emptied of oil.

The ruling is the latest move in an ongoing fight over the controversial pipeline that tribes and water protectors have been against for years. It comes just days after four Lakota tribes called on President Joe Biden to take action on the pipeline.

Biden revoked the permit of another controversial pipeline, the Keystone XL, on his first day in office.

The nonprofit EarthJustice issued a news release on Tuesday hailing “yet another victory to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe,” and quoting Chairman Mike Faith.

“We are pleased that the D.C. Circuit affirmed the necessity of a full environmental review, and we look forward to showing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers why this pipeline is too dangerous to operate,” Faith said.

(Related: Tribes to Joe Biden: Stop Dakota Access Pipeline)

The ruling stated: “We agree with the district court that the Corps acted unlawfully, and we affirm the court’s order vacating the easement while the Corps prepares an environmental impact statement.”

The Dakota Access Pipeline spans hundreds of miles from North Dakota to Illinois and crosses under the Missouri River on unceded ancestral land near Standing Rock.

In this Oct. 5, 2016, file photo, heavy equipment is seen at a site where sections of the Dakota Access pipeline were being buried near the town of St. Anthony in Morton County, N.D. The Texas-based developer of the Dakota Access oil pipeline says it has complied with terms of a 2017 agreement settling allegations it violated North Dakota rules during construction, though state regulators are seeking more information. Energy Transfer Partners was accused of removing too many trees and improperly handling a pipeline route change after discovering Native American artifacts. (Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune via AP, File)

(Related: Canceling pipelines presents challenges)

In 2016, opponents set up what became known as the “Oceti Sakowin Camp,” which served as a base for Native and non-Native water protectors who came to demonstrate from around the world.

“Today we’ve reached another milestone in our four-year legal battle on behalf of the Standing Rock Sioux to shut down this pipeline,” Earthjustice attorney Jan Hasselman said in a statement. “This decision affirms what the Tribe has been saying from the start — this pipeline is a threat to clean water and Indigenous sovereignty, and we must examine the consequences it brings for the future.”

EarthJustice said Dakota Access should not be allowed to operate until the Corps decides after its review whether to reissue a federal permit granting easement for the pipeline to cross beneath Lake Oahe. The group said Biden has the discretion to shut down the pipeline.

“The appeals court put the ball squarely in the court of the Biden administration to take action," Hasselman said. "And I mean shutting the pipeline down until this environmental review is completed.”

The Lakota People’s Law Project has created a petition directed at Biden to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline.

North Dakota Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer, meanwhile, said the court was right to reject the shutdown, and he wants Biden to stay out of it.

“The Army Corps of Engineers should be allowed to proceed as they are without political interference from the Biden administration,” Cramer said. “This is not another opportunity to wage war on North Dakota’s energy producers.”

The Obama administration originally rejected permits for the project, and the Corps prepared to conduct a full environmental review. In February 2017, after President Donald Trump took office, the agency scrapped the review and granted permits, concluding that running the pipeline under the Missouri River posed no significant environmental issues.

ICT Phone Logo

Dalton Walker, Red Lake Anishinaabe, is a national correspondent at Indian Country Today. Follow him on Twitter: @daltonwalker Walker is based in Phoenix and enjoys Arizona winters.

Indian Country Today is a nonprofit news organization. Will you support our work? All of our content is free. There are no subscriptions or costs. And we have hired more Native journalists in the past year than any news organization ─ and with your help we will continue to grow and create career paths for our people. Support Indian Country Today for as little as $10.

The Associated Press contributed to this report, which has been updated to include additional quotes and background.