By Andréa Martinez
On Jan. 26, 2021, a D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an earlier, lower-court decision to vacate the federal permits for the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL). The first ruling, handed down by a D.C. District Court in March 2020, ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Notably, despite multiple legal rulings mandating further environmental review, none had the effect of stopping DAPL’s operations. These hard-fought legal victories for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe are therefore somewhat hollow. It has become clear that the grassroots must mount a comprehensive public pressure campaign and inspire President Joe Biden to take executive action.
In our new video, our Standing Rock organizer, Phyllis Young, and our lead counsel, Chase Iron Eyes, address President Biden on the importance of shutting down the Dakota Access pipeline.
Fortunately, everyone from Indigenous and environmental justice organizations to celebrities have taken up the call for a political solution in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Among the activist organizations joining this collaborative effort, in addition to the Lakota People’s Law Project, are: Earthjustice, a nonprofit law firm representing the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe; We Stand United, an advocacy group affiliated with ally and actor Mark Ruffalo; the Sierra Club; the Sunrise Movement; Friends of the Earth; NDN Collective; Seeding Sovereignty; and thousands of Indigenous people and non-Indigenous allies.
On Jan. 19, Standing Rock Tribal Chairman Mike Faith was joined by three additional Lakota tribal leaders in signing a letter to then-president elect Biden demanding that oil flow through DAPL be shut off pending a full environmental impact assessment. Another letter, signed by more than 75 Indigenous women leaders, also asked Biden to stop DAPL and other pipelines, including KXL and Line 3. So, with all of these requests by Indigenous leaders, why hasn’t Biden taken action?
So, with all of these requests by Indigenous leaders, why hasn’t Biden taken action?
The legal and political issues surrounding DAPL are complex. To summarize, the Army Corps of Engineers is under the purview of the Department of Defense which, in turn, is under the purview of the Executive Branch. The head of the Executive Branch is, of course, the president, and therefore, the current administration holds much sway over the Corps’s activities. The bottom line is that the recent change in administration means a big opportunity for activists to have a bigger impact.
In Dec. 2016 (the last full month of Obama’s presidency), the Army Corps denied DAPL’s permit to cross the Missouri River. This halted construction and mandated a full Environmental Impact Statement — a process that usually takes years. Unfortunately, right after taking office, Trump reversed that decision, issuing an executive order and presidential permits to continue construction and operation. Then, in June of 2017, when given the chance, D.C. District Court Judge James Boasberg failed to stop the oil despite ruling that DAPL’s permits violated certain aspects of NEPA.
The upshot is that, after years of additional wrangling in court — which led to the various court rulings against DAPL’s permits — the pipeline still continues to operate. The next court hearing is scheduled for Feb. 10, 2021. But before then, the courts have requested that the Army Corps make a political decision concerning whether oil should continue to flow through DAPL. In other words, the judicial branch has tasked an executive branch agency with deciding whether a pipeline without a permit ought to be allowed to operate as an “encroachment” on federal land.
For justice activists, it’s not enough to wait and see if the Corps will make the right decision. It’s incumbent upon us to work together from every corner of the Earth, to be the change we want to see. Biden has the power to assert executive power and stop this pipeline. When he canceled the Keystone XL pipeline, he showed his commitment to environmental action and respect for Indigenous voices. Now he must take the next step by ending DAPL. If you have not already done so, please join our movement at this critical moment. Show your support for the people of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Tell Biden to take executive action, and share our call widely. Let’s stop the illegal flow of oil, once and for all.
Tell Biden: End DAPL!
Tell President Joe Biden to stop DAPL once and for all. Protect the planet and the Lakota people. No destruction of the earth. No endangering our water. Mni wiconi — water is life.