- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 28, 2017

A federal judge said Tuesday he will decide by March 7 on a request to block the Dakota Access pipeline in what may be the tribes’ last chance to derail the nearly completed project before it begins transporting oil.

At a hearing in U.S. District Court for the D.C. Circuit, Judge James A. Boasberg also asked Energy Transfer Partners to give him 48 hours’ notice before firing up the pipeline, which could be ready to operate within weeks.

The Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux are seeking a temporary injunction after losing their bid for a temporary restraining order last month.

The tribes argued that running oil below Lake Oahe would degrade the water and interfere with their free exercise of religion.

“The tribe does have a religious right to the water,” said tribal attorney Nicole Ducheneaux, as reported by the Courthouse News Service.

Judge Boasberg asked her how the pipeline would contaminate the water “if the pipeline itself doesn’t even touch the water,” according to Reuters.

“Can you claim a property interest in the land as well as the water?” the judge said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which consulted extensively with tribes and others before approving the easement under the lake in July, argued in its brief that this was the first time the tribes had mentioned the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“In an administrative process that has spanned more than two years, and litigation that has spanned some six months (and two different complaints by the tribe), this motion is literally the tribe’s first mention of RFRA or the supposed burden underlying its RFRA claim,” the reply reads.

David Debold, an attorney for the pipeline company, noted that Lake Oahe was built in the 1950s, making it difficult to square how it could be part of a traditional tribal belief system.

Supporters of the pipeline have pointed out that seven pipelines cross upstream from the Missouri River, including a 30-year-old natural gas pipeline that runs parallel to the Dakota Access under Lake Oahe.

Dakota Access runs almost exclusively on private property but about a half-mile from the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.

The 1,172-mile, four-state pipeline is expected to flow 450,000 barrels of crude per day from the Bakken field in North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois, where it will connect to pipelines that run to Gulf Coast refineries.

The Standing Rock launched a high-profile protest last year against the project as thousands of protesters camped out near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, in a show of opposition to the project.

Protest leader Chase Iron Eyes said after the hearing that the U.S. legal system doesn’t understand the spiritual connection between tribes and the land and water.

“That body of law is designed to expropriate from Native nations and subjugate Native nations within a certain framework, a certain mental, legal and, by extension, spiritual framework,” Mr. Iron Eyes said in a video posted by the Lakota People’s Law Project.

He said U.S. courts “put us in these traps, and we have to fight from within those traps, and it’s very, very difficult to do that even if you have the best attorneys. This is why ground pressure is so important.”

Under pressure from the protesters, the Obama administration delayed and then revoked the easement needed to finish the final 1,100-foot stretch of the pipeline, but the Corps reissued the permit last month after President Trump signed a memorandum to expedite the project.

Pipeline activists left behind tons of garbage at their camp in a federal floodplain that was evacuated last week amid concerns about the rapid snowmelt carrying trash and waste into the Cannonball River.

“It’s a bit rich to have the #NoDAPL crowd invoking a spiritual connection to nature which is disrupted by industry, given what they did to the land at the Oceti Sakowin camp,” said WDAY-AM talk-show host Rob Port in a Tuesday post on the Say Anything blog.

Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II urged protesters for months to vacate the camps over concerns about environmental damage.

“They left behind hundreds of dumpster loads of garbage and an amount of raw human sewage that required law enforcement to get hazardous material training before they moved in to clear the camp out,” Mr. Port said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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