BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A federal judge ruled October 11 that the Dakota Access oil pipeline can continue operating while a study is completed to assess its environmental impact on an American Indian tribe.
U.S. District Judge James Boasberg's decision will come as a blow to the Standing Rock Sioux, who have argued that an oil spill from the pipeline under Lake Oahe — from which the tribe draws its water — could have a detrimental effect on the tribal community.
“Today's decision is a disappointing continuation of a historic pattern: Other people get all the profits, and the tribes get all the risk and harm,'' said Jan Hasselman, an Earthjustice attorney representing the tribe in an ongoing federal lawsuit through which Standing Rock and three other tribes still hope to shut down the pipeline.
Boasberg found that it is likely the Army Corps of Engineers will be able to justify previous decisions made while permitting the pipeline.
“The Corps must simply connect the dots,'' he said. “This, then, is not a case in which the agency must redo its analysis from the ground up.''
Boasberg also acknowledged that shutting down the pipeline would disrupt the energy industry, but said it wasn't a major factor in his decision.
The $3.8 billion pipeline built by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners has been operating since June 1, moving oil from North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa to a distribution point in Illinois. From there it can be shipped to the Gulf Coast and potentially lucrative markets abroad. It has the capacity to move half of the oil produced daily in North Dakota, the nation's second-leading producer behind Texas.
Energy industry officials applauded Boasberg's ruling, with North Dakota Petroleum Council President Ron Ness calling the pipeline “a critical part of American energy infrastructure.''
The Justice Department declined comment on behalf of the Corps.
Hasselman said Boasberg's ruling isn't appealable.
President Donald Trump had pushed for the pipeline's completion, and the Corps dropped a plan to conduct more environmental study after he took office.
Boasberg ruled on June 14 that the Corps largely complied with environmental law, but he ordered the agency to reconsider certain areas of its analysis, and took arguments on whether to shut down the 1,200-mile (1,930-kilometer) pipeline while the work is done.
Boasberg in June said the Corps didn't adequately consider how an oil spill under the Lake Oahe reservoir on the Missouri River in the Dakotas might affect the Standing Rock Sioux. The tribe is among four that have challenged the pipeline in court over environmental fears that ETP says are unfounded.
The judge said the Corps also didn't adequately study how the pipeline might disproportionately affect the tribal community _ a concept known as environmental justice. That aims to ensure development projects aren't built in areas where minority populations might not have the resources to defend their rights.
In its analysis of the Missouri River crossing, the Corps studied the mostly white demographics in a half-mile (0.8-kilometer) radius, which the agency maintains is standard. But if the agency had gone an additional 88 yards (80 meters) — about the length of a football field — the study would have included the Standing Rock Reservation.
Boasberg in his ruling Wednesday said that issue was “a closer call'' than the others, but that it still did not justify shutting down the pipeline. He noted that the tribe's water intake has been moved about 50 miles (80 kilometers) downstream since pipeline construction began, and said an alternative river crossing near Bismarck that had been studied and rejected would pass much closer to a drinking water intake that serve tens of thousands more people.
“Risks presented to this tenfold increase in population must, of course, be considered,'' the judge said.
Corps attorneys said the agency expects to be able by next spring to substantiate its earlier determination that the pipeline poses no significant environmental threats. ETP maintained that a shutdown would cost it $90 million monthly and significantly disrupt the broader energy industry as well as state and local tax revenue. The North Dakota Pipeline Authority this week said that the Dakota Access pipeline boosted the state's tax revenues by about $19 million in its first three months of operation.
Tribal attorneys argued that ETP had overstated the potential effects of a shutdown, and Boasberg acknowledged “some cause for skepticism'' regarding ETP's predictions. Tribal attorneys also said a shutdown would create incentive for the Corps to take the review seriously.
The tribes had proposed a fallback plan if Boasberg decided against a shutdown. It includes increased public reporting of pipeline issues such as repairs, and implementation of a spill response plan — including equipment staging — at Lake Oahe. Boasberg said he will hear arguments on the matter. He scheduled a status conference for Oct. 18.
TAMA, Iowa (AP) — The Meskwaki Nation in Iowa is expanding its business interests from its casino and bingo hall into tobacco products and e-cigarettes.
Tribal leaders are looking to diversity their revenue so the tribe is less reliant on casino profits, the Des Moines Register reports.
Meskwaki Inc. will soon open a 30,000-square-foot factory and warehouse just off Highway 30, within walking distance of both the Meskwaki Bingo Casino Hotel and the Meskwaki Travel Plaza.
The facility will service Meskwaki's growing family of companies, which includes 12 subsidiaries that operate businesses in retail, distribution, manufacturing and construction. On the retail side, Meskwaki sells Native American goods, including bright woven blankets as well as its own brand of hot sauce and coffee.
Officials say the jobs created by the new businesses will provide more opportunities beyond tribal government positions and jobs at the casino.
“We hope to provide a much broader array of choices for the next generation coming up,'' said Meskwaki Inc. CEO Mark Hubble. ”I think we'll start to see a broad diversity of occupations rather than the limited opportunities in some form of government or gaming.''
The tribe has been in the tobacco business for years, selling both Native-made and commercial brands of cigarettes at its Tama travel plaza. It rolled out its own Renards brand of cigarettes and cigars in 2015.
The tribe owns a proprietary blend, but Hubble said its tobacco comes from the same North Carolina and Virginia tobacco fields as some of the nation's largest cigarette makers.
Its tobacco products are manufactured out of state, but if demand grows enough, the tribe will look at bringing production to Iowa. To make that happen, the tribe will have to overcome a decline in the number of smokers.
That's why Meskwaki is investing heavily in its line of vapor products. Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, but not the carcinogenic tar and other chemicals found in traditional cigarettes.
SEATTLE (AP) — Seattle's police department no longer regularly violates the constitutional rights of the city's residents and should be found in initial compliance with its 2012 agreement to change its ways, the U.S. Justice Department said Friday.
If U.S. District Judge James Robart agrees — which isn't certain, given opposition from a court-appointed monitor — it would mark a significant milestone recognizing the city's efforts to overhaul nearly all aspects of its police department, including how officers are trained, how and when they use force, and how such episodes are documented and reviewed.
“We have not come to this conclusion lightly,'' Seattle U.S. Attorney Annette Hayes said in a news release. “Career civil rights attorneys and police-practices experts have spent more than five years investigating SPD, overseeing the creation of new policies and training, and independently reviewing the relevant data .... We know that real reforms can't just happen on paper. They must be carried out in practice.''
The Justice Department began investigating Seattle police following a series of questionable uses of force, including the unjustified shooting of a Native American woodcarver after he crossed the street in front of a cruiser in 2010. In 2011, DOJ attorneys said they had found that officers were too quick to resort to force, especially in low-level situations.
Police brass and city officials initially disputed the DOJ's assertions but after difficult negotiations, they entered into a consent decree in 2012, aimed at reducing unnecessary uses of force, curbing biased policing and improving residents' trust.
A series of assessments have documented the changes the reforms have brought on the streets, including what the court-appointed monitor overseeing the reforms, Merrick Bobb, described as a stunning drop in how often officers use serious force — with no increase in crime or officer injuries.
“The net result is that SPD's use of force, stops, and related data show that it has complied with all of the terms of the Decree, and has eliminated the pattern or practice of unconstitutional policing that led to DOJ's investigation and findings,'' the Justice Department said in a court filing Friday.
While Seattle and the DOJ have asked Robart to find the city in initial compliance with the consent decree, the monitor is opposing that. While the city has made great strides, he said, some questions about the department's progress remain — including over the fatal shooting in June of a black, pregnant mother named Charleena Lyles.
If Robart does find the city in compliance, it would trigger a two-year period of continued oversight by the court, during which the department must demonstrate that it's continuing to abide by the agreement.
In a letter to the judge Friday, the Community Police Commission — a citizens group that provides input on reforms — agreed that the city should be found in initial compliance, saying “the City and SPD have made significant steps toward a goal that likely never will be perfectly or permanently achieved: deploying police to keep people safe while earning and maintaining the trust of every community.''