Latest DAPL Legal Ruling Sets a Dangerous Precedent

Patrice Douglas, attorney and former chairman of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, recently had an opinion column published in Bloomberg Law highlighting the “fundamental failure” of the July 6 district court ruling calling for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) to halt operations and be emptied of oil until a full environmental impact statement is completed. Douglas argues the ruling compromises the integrity of our nation’s regulatory process and must be overturned. The GAIN Coalition agrees, particularly given the critical supplies this pipeline carries that fuels the American economy and helps the nation secure its energy independence.

The ruling in question, handed down by Judge James Boasberg of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, would cause significant disruptions not only to the energy industry, but also to economy of North Dakota and surrounding states that DAPL economically supports. The court-ordered environmental review will take the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at least 13 months to complete.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers already put DAPL through a years-long environmental review process, in addition to undergoing permitting processes with the separate four state regulators and local counties in which it passes. The Corps’ review concluded with a 1,200 page long environmental assessment, and yielded a “Finding of No Significant Impact” or “FONSI.” It is especially worth noting that since DAPL came into service, it has seen more than three years of safe operation – transporting more than half a million barrels of oil per day from North Dakota to southern Illinois.

Douglas also highlights the serious consequences to energy companies of allowing this decision saying,

“Boasberg’s desire to avert an imaginary moral hazard created a real one. By elevating the “controversy” factor to the point of allowing it to decide the case, he placed an unreasonable burden on energy companies to placate all future opposition on any projects or investments or risk having permits withdrawn, incentivizing preventative activism. The resulting economic harm to America’s infrastructure will be substantial.”

This ruling, unfounded in logic, will serve as a dangerous example to activists who seek to delay infrastructure development by filing endless lawsuits. Douglas summarizes:

“Given the impossibility of assuaging all controversy, pipeline operators can expect a wave of lawsuits in the future that cite the DAPL ruling as precedent. Even those in favor of the preparation of an EIS should be disappointed by the decision for how recklessly it endangers infrastructure investment at a time when the energy industry and our economy is more vulnerable than ever.”

This could ultimately lead to the withdrawal and suspension of investment from the industry as a whole. This will lead to loss of economic development as well as good-paying jobs across the country. It is imperative that the dangerous ruling must be overturned for the future of American energy infrastructure development.

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