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Army Corps begins environmental review of Dakota Access oil pipeline; public comments sought – 9/12/20

The federal agency has kicked off a 45-day public comment period on the scope of the environmental review.

The Army Corps of Engineers launched an extensive review of the Dakota Access Pipeline this week — the latest in a winding legal battle.

Following a federal judge's order in July, the Corps began its evaluation of the environmental impacts of the oil pipeline at its Missouri River crossing, according to a notice published in the Federal Register Thursday, Sept. 10.

The Missouri River crossing, which is in North Dakota just off the Standing Rock Reservation, has been the site of intense protest over the years as environmentalists and tribal members argue that the crossing endangers Standing Rock's water source.

The start of the Corps' environmental impact statement (EIS) kicks off a 45-day public comment period, running until Monday, Oct. 26, during which the agency will hear input on the scope of their review and hold public video conferences on their plans for the evaluation. Those meetings are scheduled for 6-9 p.m. Central time on Thursday and Friday, Oct. 15 and 16.

"As the lead federal agency, the Corps will also coordinate with the public, other state and local agencies, and Tribes in order to evaluate the range of actions, alternatives, and impacts of the proposed project," the Army Corps wrote in their announcement. "The Corps will use the comments received to assist in identifying the significant issues which should be addressed in the EIS."

In July, Judge James Boasberg of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ordered Dakota Access and its parent company, Energy Transfer Partners, to shut down the pipeline and keep it empty for the duration of a lengthy environmental review, estimated to take up to 13 months.

Boasberg's ruling prompted Dakota Access to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and the pipeline operator continued to run oil through the pipeline in the wake of the initial federal court order.

In early August, the appeals court issued an emergency stay on Boasberg's shutdown order, giving the pipeline clearance to continue operating through the lengthy environmental review process. In their emergency stay, the appeals court also shifted jurisdiction over the pipeline's operations to the Army Corps, calling on the agency to make a decision on Boasberg's revocation of the pipeline's easement at the Missouri River crossing, which rendered the DAPL operations illegal at that point.

The Corps has not provided a date for its decision on the pipeline easement. In a court filing Tuesday, Standing Rock said it does not expect the agency to take action against the pipeline given the federal government's position on its operation, writing that "the inevitable choice is that the Corps will take no action to shut down the pipeline in response to" its violation of environmental law.

The legal battle over the EIS and the pipeline easement are still being hashed out in the federal appeals court. The tribes are expected to file a response next week to Dakota Access arguing that the appeals court should overturn the Boasberg ruling.

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