The Atlantic

The Historic Victory at Standing Rock

What it means, what the law says, and what comes next
Source: Stephanie Keith / Reuters

Updated on December 5 at 12:50 p.m. ET

Surely some of the protesters believed they would prevail, but among the experts—the law professors, financial analysts, and industry journalists who pride themselves on knowing the ins and outs of federal rules—almost no one expected it. The so-called experts were getting ready to shake their heads and sigh, to lament that once again a federal agency had failed to respond to a historic protest and had failed to protect the most vulnerable.

And then the incredible happened.

On Sunday afternoon, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers legally blocked the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, denying it a needed easement to drill beneath the Missouri River.

The corps will now investigate and write an environmental-impact statement, a roughly two-year process that will assess the risks of building a pipeline so close to the Standing Rock Sioux’s water supply. It will specifically examine whether the pipeline should be moved or cancelled altogether.

“The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing,” said Jo-Ellen Darcy, the Army assistant secretary for civil works who oversees the Corps of Engineers, in a statement.

In doing so, the Corps recognizes the demands of the “water protectors,” the indigenous and non-native people who have assembled in protest camps at Cannon Ball, North Dakota, since the spring. The protests had charged the Army Corps never investigated the full environmental risks

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