There are days when your heart sings with joy after hearing wonderful news. And today is one of those days.
Today is a day of celebration. A recognition of never giving up the fight. Never saying no. Despite the odds. Despite the wealth and power of the opposition. Despite the violence and brutality being thrown at you. The lesson is to never give up: Activism can win in the end.
For years, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe have been fighting to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) from being built and then operating. In the process they have been brutalized, beaten, and assaulted. They have endured years of legal fights, setbacks, and judgements. But they have doggedly and determinedly carried on fighting — and today they won a crucial victory.
It was July 2016 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — which has a long history of flawed pipeline decisions — gave approval for Dakota Access to be built, running 1,172 miles from North Dakota to Illinois. Crucially, the pipeline runs within a half-mile of the reservation of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe close to the Missouri River.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe maintained from the beginning that the Army Corps decision had been made without “proper consultation or consent” and would disrupt the Tribe’s ancestral burial grounds and sacred sites on their land.
After approval was given, a protest camp was established close to the pipeline, which helped spark a global movement of people and groups standing in solidarity with Standing Rock. Hundreds of solidarity actions were held across the globe, and outrage grew and more facts came out about the disastrous project.
As the authorities struggled to clear the camp, they used horrendous levels of excess violence, force, and brutality as well as legal intimidation. In November 2016, some 300 people were hurt after being hit by either water, gas, grenade, or rubber bullets.
As one young native man from the Ojibwe nation said, “He shot me with a rubber bullet right in the belly button, and when I showed him that he had hurt me, he just smiled and shot both my kneecaps.”
The following month, in the final days of the Obama era, Obama’s administration denied permits for DAPL to cross the Missouri River. However on just his second day in office, Trump reversed that order. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe challenged the permits in court, arguing they were flawed, even after the pipeline became commercially operational in June 2017.
Today, the courts agreed with them.
Judge James Boasberg wrote in a court ruling that, “Fearing severe environmental consequences, American Indian Tribes on nearby reservations have sought for several years to invalidate federal permits allowing the Dakota Access Pipeline to carry oil under the lake. Today they finally achieve that goal — at least for the time being.”
The judge ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and “glossed over” the devastating consequences of a potential oil spill when it affirmed its 2016 decision to permit the pipeline.
The court ordered the Corps to re-examine the risks of the pipeline and prepare a full environmental impact statement. In the meantime, it ordered the pipeline to be shut down within 30 days — by August 5 at the latest — while a full environmental impact assessment (EIA) takes place.
A full EIA could take years and be subject to further legal challenges — and most significantly, it may be the decision of a new administration to give final approval. In the meantime, time marches on, and every day the pipeline is delayed is a day nearer to the end of the hydrocarbon age.
Today’s victory is also yet another signal to fossil fuel financiers around the world that investing in oil and gas is a losing bet. As DAPL owner Energy Transfer’s stock plunged following the ruling, other oil companies fell with it, and activists renewed pressure on divestment targets like the state of New York, who continue to put pensioners’ funds at risk by investing in a dying, immoral industry.
Do not underestimate the significance of this judgement on Trump and the oil industry. As Bloomberg reported, it is a “stunning defeat for the Trump administration and the oil industry” and “momentous win for American Indian tribes.”
The reaction from the pipeline’s opponents was ecstatic. “Today is a historic day for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the many people who have supported us in the fight against the pipeline,” said Chairman Mike Faith of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. “This pipeline should have never been built here. We told them that from the beginning.”
“It took four long years, but today justice has been served at Standing Rock,” said Earthjustice attorney Jan Hasselman, who represents the Tribe. “If the events of 2020 have taught us anything, it’s that health and justice must be prioritized early on in any decision-making process if we want to avoid a crisis later on.”
Oil Change International released a statement, in which campaigner Collin Rees said: “Once again, the courts have shown that the Army Corps of Engineers has abused its power and the rights of Indigenous communities, landowners and the American people, by illegally and erroneously permitting pipelines. Once again, we see that when we fight, we win.”
Others took to Twitter to celebrate:
HUGE HUGE HUGE HUGE NEWS!
FED judge orders Dakota Access pipeline to be SHUT DOWN!!!
Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes win major court victory! https://t.co/MFEwZPNp4L
— Dallas Goldtooth (@dallasgoldtooth) July 6, 2020
The news about DAPL came just a day after the owners of another pipeline, Dominion Energy and Duke Energy, cancelled the hard-fought and controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline, leading commentators to note that a real tide is turning against U.S. fossil fuel infrastructure:
Two massive pipeline victories in two days, thanks to astonishing organizing by indigenous communities, local activists, and great lawyers.
Any investor thinking of putting cash into fossil fuel infrastructure projects should be warned they're tossing their money away.
— Bill McKibben (@billmckibben) July 6, 2020
This week in oil ?:
-Atlantic Coast Pipeline cancelled
-Dakota Access Pipeline ordered to be drained
-It's only Monday
— Brian Kahn (@blkahn) July 6, 2020
It is worth remembering that this is not the end of the DAPL fight. There are rumors that an appeal is being launched. But for the moment savor the victory, and take heart in what we can accomplish when we follow the leadership of Indigenous communities and stand up for what is right. For the moment, let your heart sing.