By Kelly Mitchell
In response to the powerful protests led by Indigenous communities and climate activists, the firm has filed a lawsuit claiming billions of dollars in damages on behalf of Energy Transfer. Here's what you need to know.
What is this lawsuit about?
In response to the powerful alliance of Indigenous communities and climate activists who protested Energy Transfer Partner's Dakota Access pipeline at Standing Rock, the Kasowitz firm has filed a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP). The goal of this suit is to silence opposition by misrepresenting what happened on the ground at Standing Rock—making outrageous and racist claims that big green organizations like Greenpeace orchestrated the Indigenous-led movement at Standing Rock.
This lawsuit is about silencing opposition in Donald Trump's America. While Greenpeace is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, its impacts aren't limited to us. This suit could have far-reaching consequences for journalists, advocacy organizations and anyone who values free speech. The Kasowitz firm is trying to challenge all of our abilities to speak out against corporate power and destruction.
This is the second year in a row that the Kasowitz firm has filed a meritless lawsuit against Greenpeace and other public interest advocates on behalf of a corporation. In 2016, the plaintiff was Resolute Forest Products, Canada's largest logging company. That lawsuit made similarly baseless legal claims in an attempt to mislabel legal advocacy as criminal conduct through the use of U.S. racketeering laws (RICO), and presented constitutionally-protected free speech as defamatory. A hearing to dismiss the Resolute lawsuit is scheduled for Oct. 10, 2017 in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco.
These suits are part of a pattern of legal bullying, as desperate corporations and political hacks try to silence activists, journalists and anyone speaking out against injustice. Energy Transfer must know that the end of the fossil fuel era is upon us, and these attacks are a last gasp effort to retain relevance and an illusion of power. What they haven't seemed to realize is that none of us will quit until these pipelines are stopped for good.
Remind me, what happened at Standing Rock?
In the spring of 2016, hundreds of Indigenous activists and leaders began gathering along the proposed route of the Dakota Access pipeline to call attention to threats to sovereignty and water supply. In the months that followed, it became the largest gathering of tribes in 100 years and sparked a worldwide movement to resist the pipeline's construction and fight for Indigenous sovereignty.
Members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, alongside allies from across the country, filed legal injunctions with the Army Corps of Engineers to stop construction and conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Several financial institutions including Nordea and ING withdrew their support for the project, citing human rights and environmental violations after conducting their own investigations. In December, after a thorough review, the Obama administration denied the easement to cross under Lake Oahe, calling for a full EIS to look at alternative routes.
Despite the Obama administration's decision, in January, Trump made it one of his top priorities to greenlight construction of the pipeline without the EIS completed. Water protectors were removed from the camp, and in the weeks to follow documents revealed that Energy Transfer had hired mercenaries from private security firm TigerSwan to infiltrate the camp and deploy counter-terrorism tactics on water protectors.
Since construction, the pipeline has leaked three times, jeopardizing land and water. Activists across the country have found inspiration from Standing Rock and are actively resisting other tar sands and gas pipelines, including Kinder Morgan TransMountain and KXL.
What's the next step for this lawsuit?
Greenpeace will not back down in the face of this egregious misuse of the law. Firms like Kasowitz deploy these lawsuits in the hopes of silencing constitutionally-protected advocacy work and burdening organizations with additional costs. Greenpeace is on the line today, but these abusive tactics threaten anyone speaking out for social and environmental justice.
We will continue this fight in and outside the courtroom. Not only will we win this case, we will continue our important work challenging new oil and gas infrastructure, building powerful alliances, and fighting for free speech and public participation in our democracy.
On Oct. 10, the Resolute case will go before a federal judge in California. This will be a major test of Kasowitz's dubious legal strategy and an opportunity to show corporate polluters like Energy Transfer that this movement is more resilient than they anticipated.
Kelly Mitchell is the energy campaign director for Greenpeace USA.