By Hamsavardhini “Anu” Thirunarayanan, Intern
This past Sunday, July 5, Dominion Energy and Duke Energy declared that they would cancel their planned Atlantic Coast Pipeline, despite the $3.4 billion investment and just 20 days after securing a 7-2 U.S. Supreme Court vote allowing them to build the pipeline below the Appalachian Trail. Fierce opposition from communities across North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia are overjoyed by this victory.
The next day, federal judge James Boasberg ordered the closure and emptying of the Dakota Access Pipeline pending an environmental review, which is a generally unprecedented resolution for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in their lengthy struggle against the oil project. Later that Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court refused the Trump administration’s emergency bid to allow the Keystone XL pipeline development to move forward while environmental concerns similar to the Dakota Access Pipeline are being resolved.
Environmental organizations all across the country are ecstatic. Kelly Martin, the director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuel campaign stated “A new era upon us—one for clean energy, and one where the risks of fossil fuel infrastructure are increasingly exposed.” “The era of multibillion dollar investment in fossil fuel infrastructure is over,” said Jan Hasselman of the environmental group Earthjustice and attorney for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
There are two main reasons for such optimism:
- The energy industry is grappling with the economic downturns of COVID-19, which has aggravated the already decreasing demand for oil and gas. Falling oil prices make the financial case for new pipelines even more complicated.
- The government has made a grave error by speeding through the National Environmental Policy Act process, neglecting the thorough environmental analysis for many of the current pipelines as mandated by law. This could allow for more litigation wins against other pipeline projects that communities are actively renouncing.
We could very well be witnessing the moment in time that marks the downturn of the oil industry. However, it is important to note that the fight is far from over. The Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipeline operations have only been halted, and they could easily be allowed to continue after the environmental review process is officially complete. Also, though the Keystone XL pipeline development has been halted, other pipelines that were under “Nationwide Permit 12” have been allowed to continue by the U.S. Supreme Court. This decision is overturning the cancellation ruled by a lower court federal judge Brian Morris. In addition, Energy Transfer (Dakota Access’s pipeline owner) refuses to accept the court demand. Instead, it’s continuing to schedule oil transport with its customers for August. Above all, even if the overall Republican administration is dealt a large blow with the cancellation of all new pipelines, there is no guarantee that oil will become a thing of the past—after all, Biden is also a top recipient of the oil & gas industry (though he has pledged to not reissue the Keystone permit if elected).
Despite grandiose statements made by various figures of large environmental organizations, to gain a true victory in this fight for their land and lives, there is much more to come for which the Sioux Nation needs to be prepared. For now though, hopefully these communities are taking a moment to rejoice their wins.
Photo by: Michael Nigro/Pacific Press, via LightRocket, via Getty Images