FARGO, N.D. (AP) — A federal judge has handed a lifeline to efforts to block the Dakota Access pipeline, ruling June 14 that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers didn’t adequately consider the possible impacts of an oil spill where the pipeline passes under the Missouri River.
U.S. District Judge James Boasberg said in a 91-page decision that the corps failed to take into account how a spill might affect “fishing rights, hunting rights, or environmental justice, or the degree to which the pipeline’s effects are likely to be highly controversial.”
The judge said the Army must redo its environmental analysis in certain sections and he’ll consider later whether the pipeline must halt operations in the meantime. A status conference is scheduled for next week.
Dave Archamabault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which has led opposition to the pipeline, called it “a significant victory.”
Developer Energy Transfer Partners announced earlier this month that it started shipping oil to customers. ETP maintains that the 1,200-mile pipeline is safe, but the Standing Rock Cheyenne River, Yankton and Oglala Sioux tribes in the Dakotas fear environmental harm.
ETP spokeswoman Vicki Granado did not immediately return email and phone messages seeking comment on Boasberg’s ruling. U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman Nicole Navas Oxman said the department is reviewing the ruling.
The decision marks “an important turning point,” said Jan Hasselman, attorney for the nonprofit Earthjustice, which is representing the tribes in the lawsuit.
“Until now, the rights of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe have been disregarded by builders of the Dakota Access pipeline and the Trump Administration ... prompting a well-deserved global outcry,” Hasselman said.
The project led to months of demonstrations near the Standing Rock Reservation and hundreds of protesters were arrested. The protests died off with the clearing of the main encampment in February and the completion of the pipeline.
Boasberg rejected two earlier complaints by the tribes. One was that the construction threatened sites of cultural and historical significance and the other was that the presence of oil in the pipeline under Lake Oahe would desecrate sacred waters and make it impossible for the tribes to freely exercise their religious beliefs.
“Now that the court has rejected these two lines of attack, Standing Rock and Cheyenne River here take their third shot, this time zeroing in DAPL’s environmental impact,” Boasberg wrote. He added later, “This volley meets with some degree of success.”
The corps originally declined to issue an easement for drilling and earlier this year launched a full environmental study of the Lake Oahe crossing, which it said would take up to two years to complete. Boasberg, the federal judge, had rejected an ETP request to stop the study.
“As we all know, elections have consequences, and the government’s position on the easement shifted significantly once President Trump assumed office on January 20, 2017,” Boasberg wrote in Wednesday’s ruling.
MAMMOTH HOT SPRINGS, Wyo. (AP) — A swarm of earthquakes in the northwestern part of Yellowstone National Park this week continued into Friday and was punctuated with a magnitude 4.4 quake Thursday evening.
The U.S. Geological Survey says the quake occurred at 6:48 p.m., in a backcountry area of Yellowstone National Park, about 8 miles (12.8 kilometers) northeast of West Yellowstone, Montana. The swarm of about 30 earthquakes of magnitude 2 and larger began Monday.
The West Yellowstone Police Department says the earthquake was felt in the town that borders the park, but there were no reports of damage.
The University of Utah Seismograph Stations said the quake was part of “an energetic sequence'' of about 30 earthquakes magnitude 2 and larger in the area. Thursday's quake was the largest to occur in Yellowstone since a 4.8 magnitude quake in March 2014.
Earthquakes occur frequently in and around Yellowstone.
In 1959, the Hebgen Lake earthquake near Yellowstone in Montana killed 28 people.
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A 20-year-old Montana man who told a judge he made “a dumb mistake'' in driving drunk and getting into a crash that killed his 16-year-old cousin has been sentenced to five years on federal probation for involuntary manslaughter.
Prosecutors had recommended a 2 1/2 year prison sentence for Torren Jon Russell of Busby for the May 2015 death of Paul Foote on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation.
Authorities say Russell, Foote and three others had been drinking and the others eventually allowed Russell to drive. The Billings Gazette reports (http://bit.ly/2styCQU) Russell acknowledged drinking about a dozen beers.
Assistant Federal Defender Gillian Gosch recommended probation Wednesday, saying Russell made a stupid decision, but that it wasn't normal conduct for him.
U.S. District Judge Susan Watters granted probation, saying Russell's conduct that night was an aberration.
DULUTH, Minn. (AP) — State transportation officials have notified members of the Fond du Lac Band that more human remains have been found at a highway construction site in Duluth.
Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Charles Zelle has apologized to members of the Fond du Lac for disturbing a Native American burial site. MnDOT stopped the Highway 23 project as soon as the Fond du Lac Band notified them about the burial site. The first remains were found last week with additional bones found this week.
WDIO-TV (http://bit.ly/2ryPxCj) reports MnDOT has hired an archaeology firm to do further site analysis. Fond du Lac conservation officers will provide security at the site to make sure nothing more is disturbed.