Energy Transfer Partners sues dozens of organization and individuals involved against the Dakota Access Pipeline
By C.S. Hagen
BISMARCK – Using incendiary language, big oil struck back at activists and NoDAPL organizations Tuesday, demanding a jury trial. Defendants included in the long list are called racketeers, parasites, rogue eco-terrorists, and criminals, and Energy Transfer Partners alleges they conspired to defame the oil rich company.
Filed in the United States District Court for the District of North Dakota, the lawsuit lists Greenpeace International, Greenpeace Inc., 350.org, the Bold Alliance, Rainforest Action Network, Earthjustice, the Sierra Club, BankTrack, Earth First!, and other organization and individuals as defendants.
On behalf of Energy Transfer Partners, Fargo’s Vogel Law Firm and New York City’s Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP, alleged that the defendants processed millions of dollars and fraudulently induced donations. The lawsuit also specified that the defendants issued “sensational lies, and intentionally incited physical violence, property destruction, and other criminal conduct.”
The lawsuit was filed approximately three months after the North Dakota Private Investigation and Security Board filed a civil lawsuit against TigerSwan, LLC, the security “fusion leader” for Energy Transfer Partners. The lawsuit stated TigerSwan and its founder, James Patrick Reese, and other security companies involved, worked illegally in North Dakota.
Energy Transfer Partners also faces allegations of misconduct while constructing the pipeline filed by the North Dakota Public Service Commission. An initial meeting to discuss the issues was scheduled last week in Bismarck, but was postponed until October.
Earlier in August, the Dakota Resource Council, a non-partisan watchdog group, also compiled a report stating that the oil boom in the Bakken is endangering people’s health, and that the state lacks meaningful standards for detecting and repairing leaks.
“Each day, oil and gas activities across the state spring leaks that spew toxic pollution into the air, like an invisible spill,” the report stated. “The smog that pollution causes to form is endangering the health of communities across North Dakota.”
While Standing Rock attorneys claim activists were peaceful, and that infiltrators were at least in part the ones behind the violence along the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners is fingering activists and the organizations, claiming a pattern of criminal activity was supported through tax-free charitable organizations.
The lawsuit also stated that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe was tricked into protesting the pipeline on lies trumped up by Earthjustice, one of the largest nonprofit environmental law organizations in the United States. The lawsuit highlighted a July 26, 2016 press release issued by Earthjustice, which stated the pipeline would be a threat to the surrounding communities and the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.
“The reason the tribe had not previously alleged the objections trumpeted by the press release accompanying the new lawsuit was simple,” the lawsuit stated. “The claims were false. They were asserted at the eleventh hour by Earthjustice to the press with the express purpose of attaching itself, like a parasite, to the tribe’s cause, and using it to incite an international outcry designed to serve the agenda of the enterprise.
“The enterprise [Earthjustice] exploited the impoverished tribe’s cause for its own end.”
The lawsuit further alleged that $500,000 of “seed money” was given to the Red Warrior Camp, who are “violent eco-terrorists.”
Additionally, the Red Warrior Camp also “engaged in illegal drug trade by using donation money to buy drugs out of state and sell them at the camps at enormous profits,” the lawsuit stated.
Furthermore, Energy Transfer Partners said in the lawsuit that activists, who were a mob, intentionally incited and engaged in criminal and civil trespass, rioting, assaults, and attacks on police and “innocent workers, chasing police and construction staff with vehicles, horses, and dogs.”
“The complaint asserts that the attacks were calculated and thoroughly irresponsible, causing enormous harm to people and property along the pipeline’s route,” a press release from Energy Transfer Partners stated. “Dakota Access was a legally permitted project that underwent nearly three years of rigorous environmental review and for this reason, Energy Transfer believes it has an obligation to its shareholders, partners, stakeholders, and all those negatively impacted by the violence and destruction intentionally incited by the defendants to file this lawsuit.”
Many of the companies named in the lawsuit have deep pockets. In 2015, Earthjustice had a revenue of $45 million, Greenpeace Inc. an income amount of $36,893,837, the Sierra Club exceeded an annual income of more than $121 million, 350.org a revenue of $11.2 million, and the Rainforest Action Network more than $7 million, according to Charity Navigator.
Greenpeace USA General Counsel Tom Wetterer said the lawsuit carries all the shackles of a SLAPP lawsuit.
“This is the second consecutive year Donald Trump’s go-to attorneys at the Kasowitz law firm have filed a meritless lawsuit against Greenpeace,” Wetterer said. “They are apparently trying to market themselves as corporate mercenaries willing to abuse the legal system to silence legitimate advocacy work. This complaint repackages spurious allegations and legal claims made against Greenpeace by the Kasowitz firm on behalf of Resolute Forest Products in a lawsuit filed in May 2016. It is yet another classic ‘Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation’ (SLAPP), not designed to seek justice, but to silence free speech through expensive, time-consuming litigation. This has now become a pattern of harassment by corporate bullies, with Trump’s attorneys leading the way.”
Whether the lawsuit could be considered a SLAPP lawsuit was not clear yet. SLAPP, or a strategic lawsuit against public participation, is a lawsuit intended to censor, silence, or intimidate critics with the burden of high legal costs to force abandonment of criticism or opposition.
Delaware, the state in which Energy Transfer Partners is registered, has weak anti-SLAPP laws, which were enacted in 1992, according to the Public Participation Project. North Dakota does not have any anti-SLAPP legislation, and Texas, where Energy Transfer Partners is headquartered, has formidable anti-SLAPP laws enacted in 2011.
Lawyers with the Water Protectors Legal Collective, a legal team defending NoDAPL activists, said in June that federal agents and private security were responsible for much of the violence, and pointed to more than 114 cases out of the total 854, which have already been thrown out of court.
“As we’re learning that there was some kind of infiltration by either the FBI or TigerSwan, or both, we think it should become an issue in the cases that the state should have to prove that some of those people who were engaging in that kind of activity were law enforcement or infiltrators,” Water Protectors Legal Collective attorney Andrea Carter said in June.
“The No-DAPL water protectors withstood extreme violence from militarized police at Standing Rock and now the state admits that it cannot substantiate the alleged justification for that violence,” Water Protector Legal Collective attorney Jacob Reisberg said in a press release in June.
Water Protector Legal Collective attorneys and Earthjustice were contacted for comment. An attorney for the Water Protector Legal Collective said the law firm needed a day or two in order to fully read the lawsuit and issue a response.