The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) could be operational by next week, after a U.S. district judge in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday ruled against two tribes who had asked him to issue a preliminary injunction pausing construction.
The Standing Rock Sioux and the Cheyenne River Sioux said their legal battle would continue, despite Judge James Boasberg's ruling.
"While this preliminary ruling is disappointing, it's not surprising. It is very difficult to get an injunction in a case like this. The bigger legal battle is ahead—we stand strong," said Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux.
The tribes had asked Boasberg to instruct the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw permission for DAPL's parent company, Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), to install pipes beneath Lake Oahe in North Dakota. President Donald Trump in January issued an executive order expediting DAPL's construction and canceling the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which was underway at the time he took office.
Associated Press reports that Boasberg ruled against the tribes on the grounds that they had presented their new case—that the pipeline infringes on their right to practice their religion, which relies on clean water—too late.
However, no final decisions have been made on the tribes' longstanding argument that DAPL threatens their cultural sites and access to clean water, and that the government should conduct a full EIS before allowing construction to move forward.
A ruling on those issues is not expected until April. At that time, Boasberg can "order the pipeline turned back off, and that's what we'll be asking for," Standing Rock attorney Jan Hasselman told the AP.
And Archambault continued, "Trump and his friends at Big Oil have not won. Today's ruling does not hurt the strength of our legal arguments challenging the illegal easement approved by the Trump administration."
The ruling comes as a confidential memo from ETP, made available through court records, shows the company intentionally buried the pipeline's impact on Indigenous communities to justify moving its original route away from majority-white and financially stable communities near Bismarck and toward the Standing Rock reservation.
"They've gerrymandered the things they are comparing in the analysis to reach an absurd result, which is that the selection of the Oahe crossing instead of the Bismarck route doesn't have environmental justice implications," Hasselman told InsideClimate News on Monday.
Chase Iron Eyes, Lakota People's Law Project lead counsel, said Tuesday, "Once again, the federal government and the army are treating the original inhabitants of this land as though we are less than human, as though our lives and lands are something to be ignored and discarded in the never-ending quest for profit."
"The latest court ruling against my people is unjust and unacceptable. But I am here to tell you, this fight is not over and we will not surrender," he said. "Several steps remain in the legal process."