Judge Sets February Deadline in Push to Resume Pipeline Construction

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WASHINGTON (CN) – Despite complaints that developers lose $20 million every week that construction of the Dakota Access pipeline is delayed, a federal judge set a tentative February deadline in the fight to force government approval.

Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the controversial project, filed its motion on Nov. 15 to mandate granting of its easement, and attorney David Debold reiterated the company’s request for an expedited ruling this morning.

The issue could “drag out forever” without a speedy decision from the court, Debold said.

Energy Transfer Partners noted in its November motion that the delays had already cost it $450 million.

The company needs the permit to complete the last section of a nearly 1,200 mile four-state pipeline that will carry oil from North Dakota to Illinois.

Construction of the pipeline has been stalled for months owing to protests by the Standing Rock Sioux reservation over the threat to its sacred tribal sites and water supply.

The Army Corps of Engineers said on Sunday it would deny the easement permit needed for the pipeline to cross a reservoir on the Missouri River.

Though the announcement drew cheers from the tribe’s water protectors – including environmental activists and veterans who have allied with the protest – Dakota Access told the court Friday that the government began undertaking steps to issue the needed easement when it issued a permit on July 25 for construction of the pipeline under Lake Oahe in North Dakota.

The Army Corps’ decision, coupled with a new administration on the horizon, leaves the final outcome up in the air for now.

“None of us have any idea of whether the incoming administration will make any or all of this moot,” U.S. District Judge James Boasberg said, noting that it is “not my job to guess on.”

President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team said Monday that the incoming administration supports the project’s completion.

For now, the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes have asked the court to stay the proceedings until the Army Corps of Engineers conducts an environmental impact study.

Boasberg, however, must still rule on the Dakota Access motion to grant the easement. He ordered briefing on the issue to be completed by February, and said if necessary, he will set a hearing date for early February.