Legal experts say the Obama administration’s decision to block the Dakota Access oil pipeline Sunday creates a “serious moral hazard” allowing activists to shut down projects that have already been approved.
New York University law school professor Richard Epstein said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to not grant the pipeline an easement to cross under a man-made lake a “serious moral hazard.”
Epstein said the Corps is basically arguing it can revoke a previously approved easement in the face of public pressure. That has huge legal implications for how federal agencies handle future projects.
“People are going to seriously ramp up opposition to stop projects,” Epstein, who is a legal adviser to the Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure NOW (MAIN) Coalition, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. The MAIN Coalition is a group of businesses and unions that would benefit from the pipeline’s approval.
The Corps announced over the weekend it would not grant the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) an easement it needs to dig under Lake Oahe, which is on federal lands. The easement is necessary to complete the last 1,100 feet or so of the pipeline project.
The decision comes after months of protests led by Standing Rock Sioux tribal members and environmental activists who say DAPL could impact sacred sites and would cross a river upstream of where they get their drinking water.
The Corps initially approved the pipeline in July 2016 after an exhaustive environmental review, which the Standing Rock Sioux refused to take part in despite repeated attempts to get their input.
This is truly unprecedented,” Epstein said. “I’ve never seen it. Nobody has seen it.”