A U.S. federal judge denied a request by Native American tribes seeking a halt to construction of the final link in the Dakota Access pipeline Monday, the controversial project that was revived by U.S. President Donald Trump after it was suspended by the previous administration following months of protests by hundreds of Indigenous and environmental activists.
Judge James Boasberg of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., rejected the request from the Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux nations, who had argued that the project will prevent them from practicing religious ceremonies at a lake they say is surrounded by sacred ground.
With this decision, the legal options for the tribes continue to narrow, as construction on the final uncompleted stretch is currently proceeding.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last week granted a final easement to Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the US$3.8-billion Dakota Access pipeline after Trump issued an executive order to advance the pipeline days after he took office in January.
Lawyers for the Cheyenne River Sioux and the Standing Rock Sioux wanted Judge Boasberg to block construction with a temporary restraining order, saying that the line would obstruct the free exercise of their religious practices.
“We’re disappointed with today’s ruling denying a temporary restraining order against the Dakota Access pipeline, but we are not surprised," Chase Iron Eyes, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, said in a statement.
He added that the tribe has not yet given up on the legal process and will be seeking an injunction against the pipeline itself that will also be heard in Boasberg's court.
They also are continuing to push for a full environmental impact statement that was ordered in the last days of the Obama administration. "We continue to believe that both the tribes and the public should have meaningful input and participation in that process," he said.
Last year, thousands of tribe members and environmental activists calling themselves water protectors protested the pipeline setting up camps at Standing Rock Indian reservation. At least 300 Native American tribes from North, Central and South America joined the action against the oil project which attracted both national and international solidarity.
Trump also revived the Keystone pipeline which was rejected by former President Obama following major protests by environmentalists. Obama had said Keystone would benefit Canada more than the U.S. while also damaging the nearby environment.