Standing Rock Sioux Tribe v. United States Army Corps of Engineers

985 F.3d 1032 (2021)

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Standing Rock Sioux Tribe v. United States Army Corps of Engineers

United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
985 F.3d 1032 (2021)

Facts

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) required federal agencies undertaking a major project to complete an environmental-impact statement (EIS). Under the NEPA, a project was classified as major if its effects on the quality of the human environment were likely to be highly controversial. Lake Oahe provided the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (tribe) (plaintiff) with water for drinking, irrigation, and cultural purposes. The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) was designed to move crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois, passing under Lake Oahe half a mile from the tribe’s reservation. The DAPL’s operators were required to obtain an easement from the United States Army Corps of Engineers (corps) (defendant). The corps granted the easement without developing an EIS. The tribe sued the corps under the NEPA for failing to provide an EIS, asking for declaratory and injunctive relief. The trial court remanded the case to the corps to determine whether the project would be highly controversial. On remand, the corps again declined to develop an EIS. Returning to court, the tribe argued that the corps had again failed to comply with the NEPA and moved for summary judgment. The tribe’s expert produced evidence that the DAPL’s leak-detection system had an 80 percent failure rate. The tribe also offered evidence that pinhole leaks in pipelines resulted in spills of thousands of gallons of oil. The corps argued that the project was not likely to be highly controversial because the only opposition came from the tribe, not from a governmental agency. The trial court found that the corps had failed to resolve the controversies about the leak-detection system and pinhole leaks and ordered the corps to complete an EIS.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Tatel, J.)

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