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Federal Court Orders Dakota Access Pipeline To Shut Down And Be Drained

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

A federal judge today ordered the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline to be shut down and drained within 30 days. He says the government needs to do a more intense environmental impact statement on the project. The company behind the pipeline has filed a motion to stay the ruling. The pipeline was the focus of Native American-led protests that were met with police violence four years ago as NPR's Jeff Brady reports.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Among the thousands of protesters who traveled to North Dakota in 2016 and 2017 was Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network.

DALLAS GOLDTOOTH: I was so excited hearing the news. I was literally shaking.

BRADY: Goldtooth was among those celebrating today.

GOLDTOOTH: This order vindicates the countless prayers and actions and the legal arguments of the Ochethi Sakowin people, the tribal nations who have been fighting this project for years now.

BRADY: The $3.8 billion 1,200-mile oil pipeline crosses the Missouri River near the northern edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. The tribe draws its drinking water downstream. Chairman Mike Faith called this an historic day for his tribe and said the pipeline never should have been built. U.S. District Judge James Boasberg had already ruled this spring that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated the National Environmental Policy Act. He said the agency wrongly performed an environmental assessment when it should have conducted a more intense environmental impact statement. That likely will take more than a year to finish.

Boasberg said he's aware shutting down the pipeline in the meantime will be a big disruption, but he said the pipeline also risks significant harm each day oil flows through it. While pipeline opponents celebrated, the mood at the North Dakota Petroleum Council in Bismarck was somber.

RON NESS: I think everybody's indiscriminately (ph) pretty discouraged by this, really.

BRADY: Ron Ness is president of the oil industry group and says the Dakota Access has safely moved 570,000 barrels of oil a day for more than three years. The pipeline is especially important for oil companies now that are hard-hit by lower prices and less demand because of the coronavirus pandemic. Ness says drillers will have to find other ways to get their crude to buyers.

NESS: Now more of this oil's going to go back on trucks. More of this oil's going to go back on railcars going across the country. And it's a bad decision. It's a bad step forward.

BRADY: The pipeline operator Energy Transfer says it's not giving up. A spokesperson says the company believes the decision to shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline is illegal. This is the second win for pipeline opponents in as many days. On Sunday, Dominion Energy and Duke Energy announced they will give up on building the Atlantic Coast Natural Gas Pipeline. That project was controversial in part because it needed a permit to tunnel under the Appalachian Trail.

Jeff Brady, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MATTHEW SALTZ AND RYAN HELSING'S "CASCADE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.