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Even as the Dakota Access pipeline is seeking to expand its capacity, an appeals court ruling has dealt a significant blow to the original pipeline.

The U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. has ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement for the pipeline, which is already completed and operational.

The ruling so far does not affect operation of the pipeline, although the judge in the case, James E. Boasberg, has asked for briefings as to whether to vacate the permit.

In his ruling, Boasberg agreed with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe that there were too many unanswered questions about the pipeline’s impacts and that it fits the definition of highly controversial under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Dakota Access had previously conducted a less detailed environmental study referred to as an Environmental Assessment, as well as a court-ordered supplement to that.

Members of the GAIN Coalition, which have advocated for construction of the pipeline, said it is a stunning decision that flies in the face of decades of widely accepted practices.

“The Dakota Access Pipeline is already the most studied, regulated, and litigated pipeline in the history of our country and has been safely operating for nearly three years,” GAIN spokesman Craig Stevens said. “These companies that invest and support large scale infrastructure projects want certainty from the government; and those who built and now operate the pipeline followed every applicable local, state, and federal rule — but now a court is putting their work in potential peril. Not only does this decision risk one company’s investment, but it could also jeopardize our nation’s economic and energy security moving forward.”

Chase Iron Eyes, counsel for the Lakota People’s Law Project, praised the decision.

“It’s vindication for the tribe, the water protectors who opposed this dangerous pipeline, and all those who stood with us during our demonstrations and after our false arrests. DAPL should be shut down, and Keystone XL and all new pipeline construction should be halted,” he said. “The horrible safety records of these oil companies speak for themselves. I’m encouraged, but it’s also important to remember that no matter the outcomes in the courts, we still run the risk of President Trump circumventing separation of powers and exceeding the scope of his authority when it comes to pipelines.”

Phyllis Young, Standing Rock organizer for the Lakota People’s Law Project, and the official liaison to the Oceti Sakowin camp for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, thanked all those who came to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline, or who offered to host members of the tribe in Washington D.C.

“Now the remedy from this court must be to stop and halt the pipeline going through our territory,” she said. “This remedy is critical for my family, because the backup plan for a spill could push the oil back into Porcupine Creek, which is my front yard. I cannot drink oil. My children cannot live with this backup plan, so there needs to be a better remedy.”

Standing Rock Chairman Mike Faith told the Bismarck Tribune the ruling is a significant legal win.

“It’s humbling to see how actions we took four years ago to defend our ancestral homeland continue to inspire national conversations about how our choices ultimately affect this planet,” he said in a statement. “Perhaps in the wake of this court ruling the federal government will begin to catch on, too, starting by actually listening to us when we voice our concerns.”

The Standing Rock Tribe has vigorously opposed the Dakota Access pipeline, which passes under the Missouri River about a half mile from the tribe’s reservation in Morton County. Thousands converged on sites near the pipeline crossing in 2016 and 2017 to protest its construction, including the Oceti Sakowin camp.

Standing Rock and other affected tribes first filed suit against the pipeline in 2016. They achieved a partial legal victory when Boasberg ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to do a supplemental study. That was completed in 2018, and concluded again that the pipeline would not have any significant impact on the environment.

Standing Rock, however, appealed the matter, arguing that the highly controversial nature of the Dakota Access pipeline triggers a full environmental study under NEPA.

The Dakota Access Pipeline carries about 570,000 barrels of crude oil per day to markets in Illinois. Recently, the company has sought permits in four states to expand the pipeline’s capacity to around 1 million barrels per day.

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