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An indigenous environmental activist attaches herself to a large tripod using a bike lock, blocking traffic near Black Lives Matter Plaza on the north side of the White House as part of a protest against oil pipelines on April 1, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Dozens of Democrats Urge Biden to Take 'Critical Step' of Shutting Down Dakota Access Pipeline

"By shutting down this illegal pipeline, you can continue to show your administration values the environment and the rights of Indigenous communities more than the profits of outdated fossil fuel industries."

Jake Johnson

A bicameral group of more than 30 Democratic lawmakers and Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders on Thursday called on President Joe Biden to immediately order a shutdown of the Dakota Access pipeline as it undergoes a court-ordered environmental impact review.

"In 2016, we witnessed egregious environmental racism as North Dakota law enforcement officials violently removed protestors from the path of DAPL, many of them from the nearby Standing Rock Sioux Tribe."
—Letter

In January, a federal appeals court upheld a district judge's order for a more extensive environmental assessment of the crude oil project—but reversed the part of the judge's ruling that would have required a pause in pipeline operations during the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' review.

Following the January ruling, a group of five Democratic lawmakers led by Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-Calif.) sent a letter imploring Biden to step in and immediately shut down the pipeline, whose ownership group includes Energy Transfer, Phillips 66, and Enbridge. On Thursday, 28 lawmakers from the House and Senate joined the pressure campaign as Indigenous youth rallied in support of the DAPL shutdown call near the White House.

"By shutting down this illegal pipeline, you can continue to show your administration values the environment and the rights of Indigenous communities more than the profits of outdated fossil fuel industries," the lawmakers wrote. "This is a critical step towards righting the wrongs of the past and setting our nation on a path of environmental, climate, and social justice."

A new court hearing on the pipeline is set for April 9.

Indigenous tribes and environmentalists argue that the Dakota Access pipeline—which has leaked repeatedly since it began delivering oil in 2017—is operating unlawfully as its owners continue a yearslong permitting battle.

"This pipeline is now operating illegally. It doesn't have any permits," said Jan Hasselman, an EarthJustice attorney who is representing the Standing Rock Sioux and other tribes in their fight against the 1,100-mile pipeline, which stretches from North Dakota to Illinois and has the capacity to transport 570,000 barrels of oil per day.

"The appeals court put the ball squarely in the court of the Biden administration to take action," said Hasselman. "And I mean shutting the pipeline down until this environmental review is completed."

Read the Democratic lawmakers' full letter:

Dear President Biden:

Thank you for the bold early actions your administration has taken to prioritize climate action and environmental justice, including your announcement in January to withdraw permits for the Keystone XL pipeline. We urge you to build on this promising start by ordering a shutdown of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) while it undergoes a court-mandated environmental review.

In 2016, we witnessed egregious environmental racism as North Dakota law enforcement officials violently removed protestors from the path of DAPL, many of them from the nearby Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Fortunately, President Obama denied the pipeline an easement to cross a federal reservoir along the Missouri River, while requiring the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). This action was quickly undermined by President Trump, who upon taking office reversed course and granted the easement while ignoring the concerns of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

On January 26, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued a ruling upholding a March 2020 United States District Court decision that the USACE violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it granted the easement. The USACE did not adequately consider the potential impacts of the pipeline on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, and did not consult with the tribe and other affected communities about those impacts. The tribe draws its water from the Missouri River, and rightfully fears an oil spill could disproportionately affect their drinking water, as well as hunting and fishing rights. The District Court postponed its hearing on the shutdown until April 9th to discuss its plans with the Administration.

In July of 2020, the District Court invalidated DAPL's easement and ordered the pipeline shut down while the USACE prepares an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The federal appeals court has upheld this ruling that the pipeline is illegal and directed the government to make a decision on the pipeline promptly.

As you consider how to proceed, we encourage you to meet with members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other impacted Tribes to better understand how the DAPL affects their lands, treaty rights, and environmental priorities. By shutting down this illegal pipeline, you can continue to show your administration values the environment and the rights of Indigenous communities more than the profits of outdated fossil fuel industries. This is a critical step towards righting the wrongs of the past and setting our nation on a path of environmental, climate, and social justice.


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