WASHINGTON, Mar. 8, 2017 - In a decision issued Tuesday morning, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia denied a Motion for Preliminary Injunction from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe which argued that completion of the Dakota Access pipeline would violate the tribe's religious freedom rights.

The motion was filed shortly after President Donald Trump took office and directed an expedited approval process. On Feb. 8, the Army Corps of Engineers issued an easement that once again allowed Dakota access to proceed.

Cheyenne River’s lawyers sought relief to protect its members, arguing that the presence of crude oil in the Dakota Access pipeline under Lake Oahe would compromise their free exercise of religion. They were joined by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in the injunction request.

However, Judge James Boasberg found that the tribe’s delay in bringing up this argument earlier in the review process was “unsatisfactory.”

"The request comes long after Cheyenne River learned of the pipeline’s proposed route, was invited to offer feedback, articulated other environmental and cultural issues, and filed suit on other claims,” Boasberg wrote. “Only once Dakota Access had built up to the water's edge and the Corps had granted the easement to proceed did Cheyenne River inform Defendants that the pipeline was the realization of a long-held prophecy about a Black Snake and that the mere presence of oil in the pipeline under the lakebed would interfere with the Tribe's members' ability to engage in important religious practices.”

Keep up with ag and rural policy and energy news as it happens. Sign up for a four-week free trial of Agri-Pulse.

The judge also noted that the injunction request was unlikely to succeed on the merits of its claims under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) because “there is no specific ban on their religious exercise…”

Energy Transfer Partners, which owns the pipeline, has been drilling for weeks and said oil could start flowing through that section of the pipeline as early as next week.

Back in Washington, a coalition of groups plans to continue protesting the pipeline, planning a “Native Nations March” on March 10.