Dakota Access attorneys fighting tribes' religion argument

By Blake Nicholson, Associated Press

This Feb. 13, 2017, file aerial photo shows a site where the final phase of the Dakota Access Pipeline will take place with boring equipment routing the pipeline underground and across Lake Oahe to connect with the existing pipeline in Emmons County in Cannon Ball, N.D. The Dakota Access pipeline developer said Monday, March 27, that it has placed oil in the pipeline under a Missouri River reservoir in North Dakota and that it's preparing to put the pipeline into service. (Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune via AP, File)

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Attorneys for the developer of the Dakota Access pipeline are fighting an attempt by Sioux tribes to argue that oil under their water source potentially interferes with their religion, even as the company steadily fills the line with oil.

The Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes sued last summer on other grounds, including that the pipeline threatened cultural sites and water supply, which they get from Lake Oahe, a reservoir on the Missouri River in North Dakota. Energy Transfer Partners this week asked a federal judge to reject an attempt by the tribes to amend their lawsuit in part to include the religion argument.

The tribes first raised the religion argument in early February, after the Trump administration cleared the way for final pipeline construction under the lake. They maintain that the pipeline threatens water they consider sacred.

ETP argued then that the argument came too late in the legal process, and U.S. District Judge James Boasberg, the Washington, D.C., judge overseeing the case, refused to allow the religion argument as a basis for stopping construction of the pipeline.

The tribes have appealed his decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which also recently refused to grant an emergency order stopping oil from flowing through the pipeline.

The company also filed documents objecting to a request by 13 members of the Standing Rock, Cheyenne River and Oglala Sioux tribes to join the lawsuit as individual plaintiffs. Members of the group, which includes Ladonna Brave Bull Allard, one of the main organizers of opposition to the pipeline, argue in part that they might be better suited to make the religion argument because they are personally affected.

ETP attorneys said there's no evidence the individual tribal members would be "substantially burdened" by the pipeline, and that intervention by the group would further delay a lawsuit "that is finally approaching conclusion."

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