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26 Mar

A Foreign Perspective, News and Analyses

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Army corps of engineers ordered to conduct full environmental review, which could take years

Dakota Access Pipeline water protectors in Standing Rock, North Dakota, in 2017. The Standing Rock Sioux chief welcomed the court’s action on Wednesday.

Dakota Access Pipeline water protectors in Standing Rock, North Dakota, in 2017. The Standing Rock Sioux chief welcomed the court’s action on Wednesday. Photograph: Michael Nigro/REX/Shutterstock

The future of the controversial Dakota Access pipeline has been thrown into question after a federal court on Wednesday struck down its permits and ordered a comprehensive environmental review.

The US army corps of engineers was ordered to conduct a full environmental impact statement (EIS), after the Washington DC court ruled that existing permits violated the National Environmental Policy Act (Nepa).

The ruling is a huge victory for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe of North Dakota, which rallied support from across the world and sued the US government in a campaign to stop the environmentally risky pipeline being built on tribal lands.

“After years of commitment to defending our water and earth, we welcome this news of a significant legal win,” said the tribal chairman, Mike Faith. “It’s humbling to see how actions we took to defend our ancestral homeland continue to inspire national conversations about how our choices ultimately affect this planet.”

In December 2016, the Obama administration denied permits for the pipeline to cross the Missouri river and ordered a full EIS to analyze alternative routes and the impact on the tribe’s treaty rights.

In his first week in office, Donald Trump signed an executive order to expedite construction. Construction of the 1,200-mile pipeline was completed in June 2017.

The tribe challenged the permits – and won. As a result, the corps was ordered to redo its environmental analysis, which it did without taking into consideration tribal concerns or expert analysis.

The pipeline continued to transport oil from North Dakota to Illinois. The tribe and EarthJustice, an environmental law not-for-profit group, sued again.

In his ruling on Wednesday, the federal judge James Boasberg, an Obama appointee, said the environmental analysis by both the companies behind the pipeline and the corps was severely lacking.

The abysmal safety record of the pipeline parent company, Sunoco, “does not inspire confidence”, he added.

The court-mandated EIS will be more in depth than the assessment already completed by the corps – and could take years. The court will next decide if the pipeline should be shut down until the EIS is done.

The corps did not respond to a request for comment.

“This validates everything the tribe has been saying all along about the risk of oil spills to the people of Standing Rock,” said Jan Hasselman, an EarthJustice attorney. “The Obama administration had it right when it moved to deny the permits in 2016.”

The setback for the pipeline comes as the Trump administration moves to severely curtail Nepa, the 1969 legislation which is widely considered the cornerstone of US environmental protection. Trump has repeatedly blamed Nepa for blocking fossil fuel projects.

FBI says Timothy Wilson, 36, had planned for several months to carry out a bombing and decided to target a Kansas City-area hospital

Kansas City, Missouri.

Kansas City, Missouri. Photograph: Charlie Riedel/AP

A man fatally injured by the FBI was planning a bomb attack on a medical facility in the Kansas City area, the agency said in a news release on Wednesday.

Timothy Wilson, 36, was injured on Tuesday when FBI agents served a probable cause arrest warrant in Belton, Missouri, after a long-running domestic terrorism investigation, according to a statement on Wednesday from Timothy Langan, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Kansas City office.

The statement did not detail what happened when agents served the warrant, but said Wilson was armed when he was injured and died later at a hospital.

A months-long investigation determined that Wilson was a potentially violent extremist, motivated by religious, racial and anti-government beliefs, according to the statement. He had planned for several months to carry out a bombing and decided to target a Kansas City-area hospital using a “vehicle-borne” improvised explosive.

Wilson chose a hospital that was providing critical care during the current coronavirus pandemic and had taken steps to acquire materials to build the bomb in an attempt to cause “severe harm and mass casualties”, according to the statement.

The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force kept close watch on Wilson and was prepared to arrest him when he tried to pick up what he thought was a bomb, although there was no bomb, the statement said. The FBI worked with federal prosecutors in the US attorneys office in Kansas City during the investigation.

No further details were released.

World Politics

United States

Several local ordinances have allowed firearms stores to remain open, insisting that safety is as important as food and medical care

A gun shop in Culver City, California, was ordered to close in an effort to stop the spread of Covid-19.

A gun shop in Culver City, California, was ordered to close in an effort to stop the spread of Covid-19. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images

US gun industry groups are engaged in an intense attempt to persuade state and federal lawmakers that gun shops should be considered “essential” businesses during the coronavirus crisis, and therefore allowed to stay open.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), one of the largest US pro-gun ownership groups, told its members this week it had been in contact with the White House, Capitol Hill and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to advocate for “national critical infrastructure industry” status.

“We want you to know the [NSSF] is hard at work for you during this challenging time as the nation faces the Covid-19 pandemic,” the group said in a statement.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Lawrence Keane, NSSF senior vice-president for government and public affairs, said in a letter to the DHS the “critical infrastructure” designation should be extended to the whole gun industry, including dealers and shooting ranges.

“Food, water, shelter and adequate medical care are paramount for survival, but so too is the ability for an individual to defend his or herself, their family, as well as their home, business and property,” Keane reportedly wrote.

According to the NSSF, gun dealers have reported an unprecedented surge in firearm sales, with lines forming outside gun stores and background checks up 300% on 16 March compared with the same day last year.

In Florida, the Miami Herald reported, background checks were up nearly 500% on last Friday alone, with 13,192 checks recorded compared to 2,646 on the same date last year.

Florida’s Firearm Purchase Program, which conducts background checks, posted a message on its website which said the volume of requests was so high it was “currently unable to receive customer service phone calls”.

Across the US, a patchwork of orders and local ordinances allowing gun stores to remain open as “essential businesses” has emerged as the coronavirus crisis has developed.

In Illinois, Governor Jay Pritzker declared that “firearm and ammunition suppliers and retailers, for purposes of safety and security” were deemed “essential” and could thus stay open.

In Connecticut, Democratic senator and gun-control advocate Richard Blumenthal argued that closing gun stores would be broadly in line with other anti-coronavirus measures, including restrictions on travel and assembly.

“Plain and simple, there is no reason why gun stores should be given this exemption,” the senator tweeted.

But the stores stayed open and the National Rifle Association praised the state governor, Ned Lamont, its legislative wing saying in a statement it thanked him “for upholding the right of law-abiding citizens to defend themselves and their loved ones”.

In Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Wolf allowed gun shops to open on a limited basis, reversing an earlier order at the urging of several state supreme court justices.

“I am extremely pleased that Governor Wolf has acknowledged that he may not eviscerate citizens’ inviolate rights, regardless of any states of emergency that may exist,” said Joshua Prince of the Firearm Protection Coalition, a group that filed a lawsuit opposing the gun shop shutdown.

State justice David Wecht said the governor’s initial order to close gun shops amounted to “an absolute and indefinite prohibition upon the acquisition of firearms by the citizens of this commonwealth – a result in clear tension with the second amendment” of the US constitution as well as the constitution of Pennsylvania itself.

Wolf’s office did not announce the policy change: it was included on an updated list of businesses subject to an order to close because they are deemed “non-life-sustaining”.

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, efforts to update a city ordinance granting the mayor emergency powers were approved only after repeated assurances from Mayor Tim Keller that the city would not restrict firearms sales.

In other jurisdictions, including San Jose and Castro Valley, California, local authorities have ordered stores to close.

“Since we don’t live in the wild west, where people are dependent on guns for food, and we do have a well-functioning police department, it would be hard to articulate a basis for arguing that a gun shop would be an essential service,” Sam Liccardo, the San Jose mayor, told the Wall Street Journal.

The Los Angeles county sheriff’s department began closing gun shops on Tuesday, but dropped the effort less than 12 hours later. Sheriff Alex Villanueva told FOX 11 the county legal counsel had issued an opinion that under Governor Gavin Newsom’s statewide executive order, gun stores should be classified as essential.

Trump accuses media of wanting to keep economy shut to hurt his reelection

US gun industry groups urge lawmakers to keep gun shops open

US Senate passes historic $2tn relief package as coronavirus devastates economy

 

 

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