Ruling on Bakken fate could take weeks

Federal judge hears argument that pipeline poses risk to sacred lands

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Actors Susan Sarandon, Riley Keough and Shailene Woodley joined members of North Dakota’s Standing Rock Sioux Tribe outside a courthouse here Wednesday to protest construction of the Dakota Access pipeline they say would pollute water and desecrate sacred tribal land.

About 100 members of the Native American group demonstrated outside the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia while others filled a courtroom inside where a legal battle unfolded over the $3.7 billion project that touches four Midwest states including Iowa, where 15 landowners are challenging it in court also.

The pipeline would be the first to bring Bakken shale from North Dakota to a distribution hub in Illinois, then directly to Gulf Coast refineries.

Dakota Access had planned to start operations in the fourth quarter of this year, but construction has been dogged since April by protests and some work has been halted.

A Dakota Access spokeswoman said this week that the company has “temporarily deferred grading activities” across a short section of the right of way near the North Dakota protest site while “law enforcement works to contain the unlawful protests.”

Dakota Access filed a restraining order against tribal Chairman David Archambault II and other tribal members in federal court this month.

The tribe has sought a preliminary injunction in Washington to halt pipeline construction, accusing the Army Corps of Engineers of violating historic preservation and environmental laws by approving sections of the pipeline, which would cross north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota.

The Corps declined comment on Wednesday.

The tribe says the pipeline would leave it vulnerable to oil spills and damage culturally significant sites in violation of the National Historic Preservation Act and National Environmental Policy Act.

Supporters of the pipeline have said it would provide a safer and more cost-effective way to transport Bakken shale.

On Wednesday, District Court Judge James Boasberg held a hearing on the tribe’s motion for a preliminary injunction, and said he would announce his decision by Sept. 9. He set a status hearing for Sept. 14.

Outside court, Sarandon and others showed support for the tribe.

“I’m here as a mother and a grandmother to thank the people of the Standing Rock community for bringing our attention to this horrible thing that is happening to their land, which in turn will endanger all of us ... because all of our waters are connected,” said Sarandon, the Oscar-winning actress.

In Iowa, where the pipeline is approved to cross 18 counties, the state utilities board this week ordered that Dakota Access not conduct any work until Monday on parcels owned by 15 landowners who are fighting the company’s use of eminent domain to acquire easements from unwilling sellers.

The landowners had asked a Polk County judge to stop the project on their property, but he ruled the courts could not intervene yet because the landowners had not exhausted administrative remedies.

The Iowa Utilities Board is set to hear arguments on the issue at 10 a.m. Thursday at its Des Moines headquarters.

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