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Native American Activists Victorious After Judge Orders Pipeline Shut Down


The Dakota Access Pipeline carries more than half a million barrels of crude oil each day. But by next month, that volume is set to trickle down to zero. Three years after it opened, a federal judge on Monday ordered the pipeline to shut down for an additional environmental review.

We have Mark Trahant with us. He's been covering the story. He's the editor of Indian Country Today. Mark, thanks for being here.

MARK TRAHANT: Glad to be here.

GREENE: Can you just remind us of the context - I mean, the communities that are impacted by this pipeline which might, you know, also remind us about all the protest over its construction?

TRAHANT: Sure. Well, first, the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River tribes were there. And they basically have at stake their water supply. And in the broader sense, the entire region has its water supply at stake because, ultimately, if there's a problem with the pipeline, it's going to affect the Missouri River system.

GREENE: All right. So after all this pressure - I mean, these years of pressure - we now have this decision this week. How did the federal judge come to this ruling?

TRAHANT: The federal judge - the ruling is extraordinary because it lays out in pretty detailed terms that the harm that was done by not following the National Environmental Policy Act and saying - making the case that the federal government has to live up to its own standards, which includes environmental impact and other stringent reviews.

GREENE: I mean, it seems like this is a big victory for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other communities that were fighting against this pipeline. How are they responding to this decision from this judge?

TRAHANT: It's a huge victory, and the tribes do see it that way. You know, there's still a long way to go with lots of appeals and lots of back-and-forth. But the thing is they now have on record a United States Court saying that the federal government did not live up to its own obligations. And that changes the tenor of the debate and allows the tribes to have a moral stand that they haven't had other than through the court of public opinion.

GREENE: So I mean, as you said, I mean, there's a long way to go here with probably a lot of appeals. This will be pending an environmental review that's going to take place. But at this point, you've got Energy Transfer, the company that owns the pipeline. What are they saying in terms of what's next for them?

TRAHANT: The industry itself - not just the company but North Dakota pipelines are saying there will be an appeal immediately. And they'll try to get a temporary restraining order to block this court in the appeals process. So they're going to basically move as quickly as possible to try to get this decision reversed. But again, it's a long process. And this is just setting the stage for a much broader conversation about environmental standards and being able to go around those environmental standards for a short-term gain.

GREENE: You said this is allowing the tribes to take a moral stand. It sounds like they might see much more at stake here in this moment in this case than just a pipeline.

TRAHANT: Absolutely. It's the idea that tribes have the ability through a treaty in this case and practice to be able to say, here are our demands going into this and that demand happens to be clean water.

GREENE: Mark Trahant is the editor of Indian Country Today, covering this long debate over the pipeline. Thanks so much. We appreciate it, Mark.

TRAHANT: Glad to do it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.