Controversial Dakota Access Pipeline case back in federal court

Published: Oct. 6, 2016 at 1:46 PM CDT
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The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe was back in federal court on Wednesday, fighting to stop the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

A federal appeals court panel had some tough questions for opponents of the $3.8 billion oil pipeline. Attorneys representing the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the Justice Department and Dakota Access presented their arguments before a panel of three judges.

The three judges were aggressive in their questioning frequently interrupting testimony and asking for clarification, even appearing confused.That’s because attorneys representing the tribe have altered their original argument since presenting their case in District Court.

"When we filed this case originally in late July, we were asking the court to stop the pipeline all together," explained Jan Hasselman, an attorney representing the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

Now, Hasselman is altering his original argument, after a federal court failed to issue an injunction last month.

“The only thing left from a perspective of protecting sacred sites and tribal burials is this very narrow area around lake Oahe and that's the place that's most special and needs the most protection," Hasselman said.

After Wednesday's hearing, Chairman Dave Archambault II of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe spoke at a news conference.

“Today we just listened to the judges ask questions back and forth on whether or not we have a good argument," said Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

Archambault says he has no idea how the judges will rule.

“For the tribe, this wrong is right there in front of us. But when you have lawyers that pick apart and interpret and make things ambiguous, it's really hard to tell what the outcome is going to be," Archambault said.

Attorneys representing the Army Corps of Engineers argued that only three percent of the pipeline was within their jurisdiction. They also argued that they properly fulfilled all their duties when issuing permits to the company. Senator John Hoeven (R-ND) agrees with the decision made previously by Judge James E. Boasberg in federal court.

"The court indicated that the Corps of Engineers had done the necessary and appropriate work," Sen. Hoeven explained. "The pipeline will go in the same corridor as an existing transmission line and gas line that's already there," he said.

This week, five labor unions sent a letter to President Obama, calling on the administration to allow construction to continue. In the letter, they say the weeks-long halt in construction has caused hardship for thousands of families.

Now, the panel of judges must decide whether or not to keep construction on hold near Lake Oahe.

Gray Television has reached out to attorneys from the Justice Department who are representing the Army Corps of Engineers. They have declined to comment.

At this point, it’s unclear when the appeals court will make their decision. Until that decision is reached, the pipeline company is not allowed to continue construction for 20 miles on either side of the Missouri River at Lake Oahe.

The fight to halt construction of the pipeline began in July, when the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe sued, arguing they were never properly consulted before construction began.