Dakota Access: 14 States to Court: Keep Pipeline Open during NEPA Review

Sign along the path of the Dakota Access pipeline through the Iowa countryside at the edge of a farm field. Photo: Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette.


Niina H. Farah, E&E News Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Fourteen state attorneys general say a shutdown of the Dakota Access pipeline would hurt farmers and increase environmental risks if railways are forced to take on more oil shipments. The coalition, led by Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill (R), on Friday urged the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to keep the project operational.

A judge for the court decided earlier this year that the Army Corps of Engineers must conduct a more robust analysis of the oil pipeline under the National Environmental Policy Act (Energywire, March 26).

“Closing the Dakota Access Pipeline would have dramatic ramifications for our economy, environment, food supply and personal safety,” Hill said in a statement. “Should the pipeline cease transporting crude oil, we all stand to suffer.”

The comments of attorneys general from states both directly and indirectly affected by the 1,172-mile pipeline come in response to the D.C. District Court’s request for additional input on what should happen with the pipeline while the Army Corps completes its environmental impact analysis.

In addition to Hill, attorneys general from Montana, Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and West Virginia signed on to the friend of the court brief. All are Republican, except for Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller.

The states warned that other existing oil pipelines would only be able to take about 12% to 18% of the 570,000 barrels of crude oil the Dakota Access pipeline carries each day. That would force the remaining oil onto rail and truck transport if the pipeline, which extends from North Dakota to Illinois, were shuttered.

Such a shift, the state attorneys general said, would have serious consequences for farmers, who would be forced to compete for rail space with producers of more lucrative crude oil. The states cited other problems such as increased rail congestion, spoiled grain, higher food prices and even potential food shortages.

“With no substitute freight provider available to serve America’s farmers, the implications of shutting down DAPL for the world’s food supply become unthinkable,” the attorneys general said.

They urged against introducing any further disruptions to the agricultural sector, which has already suffered as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The states cited recent guidance from the Group of 20 nations, which urged governments not to create “unnecessary” disruptions to global food supply chains.

Like other parties that support keeping the pipeline operational, the states warned of the comparative dangers of shifting more oil transport to rail or truck (Energywire, May 1). They added that using either of those modes to transport oil would lead to higher greenhouse gas emissions.

“The widespread economic and safety disruptions that would arise from vacatur would far outweigh any actual harm caused by the short-term lack of an environmental impact statement, which, after all, is a procedural agency obligation designed to provide more public information, but which does not itself hold the prospect of changing the substantive outcome of the Corps’ ultimate decision about the easement,” the state attorneys wrote.

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