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Court Halts Dakota Access Pipeline Shutdown As Legal Fight Goes Forward

The Dakota Access Pipeline may continue to pump crude oil through South Dakota after a federal appellate court on Tuesday temporarily blocked a shutdown ordered by a lower court that was to begin next month.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued an administrative stay that will be in effect at least through next Thursday while the pipeline's operator, Energy Transfer LP, and its opponents file briefs. The company is appealing the lower court's shutdown order and asking it be blocked pending the final outcome of its appeal.

The company has been fighting over the project for years with environmentalists and Native American tribes, under whose land a small portion of the $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile North Dakota-to-Illinois pipeline runs.

"The purpose of this administrative stay is to give the court sufficient opportunity to consider the emergency motion for stay and should not be construed in any way as a ruling on the merits of that motion," the court said in the order.

GAIN Coalition, a consortium of businesses, trade associations and labor groups that supports the pipeline, called Tuesday's temporary stay "a key step forward in reaffirming the Dakota Access Pipeline's critical role in the American energy infrastructure network."

North Dakota Republican U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer hailed the order as "common sense."

Members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe contend a part of the pipeline that runs beneath Lake Oahe could contaminate the reservation's drinking water and sacred lands. In legal filings, they claim the Army Corps of Engineers improperly issued construction permits and failed to conduct adequate environmental analysis of the pipeline's impact.

"It's important to recognize: An administrative stay is not in any way indicative of how the court is going to rule — it just buys the court a little additional time to make a decision," Earthjustice attorney Jan Hasselman, who represents the tribe, said in a statement to the Bismark Tribune.

Months of sometimes violent protests against the pipeline took place in 2016 and 2017 during construction near Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, which straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border.

On July 6, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg ordered Energy Transfer to halt oil flow and empty the pipeline within 30 days. Boasberg ruled in March that the Army Corps had failed to address concerns about the risk of oil spills and ordered it to conduct a full environmental impact study. That study could take another year to complete.

The appeals court has given the tribe until Monday to respond to Energy Transfer's request to be allowed to continue operating pending its appeal of the shutdown. The company then has until July 23 to file its reply.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.