There is hardly any doubt that the day after the November election, many special interests celebrated themselves into a drunken stupor at the thought of Republicans controlling the government. And likely, none were as thrilled as big oil that legitimately believed there was nothing whatsoever that would stand in their way of raping and pillaging the land and despoiling the environment. Trump certainly did his part for big oil by letting the Heritage Foundation appoint friends of the oil industry to cabinet level positions at the EPA and Energy Department to sweep away what they consider obstacles to unfettered profits.
Even though big oil assumed that its sycophants in Congress and the White House were all-powerful, their excitement only lasted six months into their newly-purchased administration. Because although they control Congress and the White House, they don’t control the Federal Judiciary.
Probably because Trump is such a monumental distraction, the media and much of the population ignored a fairly important federal court ruling in June that dealt a blow to the owners of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), Energy Transfer Partners (ETP). The 91-page ruling fundamentally said the Army Corps of Engineers failed miserably to properly vet the pipeline (DAPL) or study “the impacts of an oil spill on fishing rights, hunting rights, or environmental justice.” The court ruled the preparation was particularly deficient, so a judge ordered the “Corps” to prepare a new report on the pipeline’s risks and do it right this time.
Although the judge’s orders didn’t force ETP to abandon the pipeline or shut it down completely, Native Americans and environmental watchdogs celebrated a victory with far-reaching implications going forward. Prime among those implications is that from now on, corporations like ETP cannot just begin constructing extreme environmental hazards with impunity and without proper vetting. Portions of the pipeline already completed have already sprung leaks on at least two occasions, and it is not yet completed.
That court ruling was too much for the power-drunk owners of DAPL, so Donald Trump’s lawyers, on ETP’s behalf, filed a $300 million lawsuit against environmental activists Greenpeace, Earth First, and other concerned environmentalists. According to a statement released by ETP, the environmental groups and Native American protestors:
“Manufactured and disseminated materially false and misleading information about Energy Transfer and the Dakota Access Pipeline for the purpose of fraudulently inducing donations, interfering with pipeline construction activities, and damaging Energy Transfer’s critical business and financial relationships.”
In Trump’s lawyers’ 187-page complaint against environmental groups and Native Americans, ETP alleges that:
“Putative non-profits and rogue eco-terrorist groups who employ patterns of criminal activity and campaigns of misinformation to target legitimate companies and industries with fabricated environmental claims and other purported misconduct” caused the natural gas company to lose “billions of dollars.”
And just for good measure, Trump’s lawyers included some stunningly outrageous claims that the environmental groups were “funding terrorism and using donations to fund a lucrative drug trafficking scheme.” About the only thing Trump’s lawyers didn’t include in a long list of bovine excrement allegations was that Greenpeace, Earth First, and Native Americans were behind the terror attacks on 9/11, the financial meltdown of 2008, and the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
The name of the law firm representing ETP may sound familiar to some Americans because it is the same firm representing Donald J. Trump in the “several congressional and special counsel investigations into Trump’s collusion with Russia” during, and after, the general election. Trump’s law firm, Kasowitz, Benson and Torres LLP are also responsible for a couple of other lawsuits against Greenpeace filed late last year for “defamation and threatening customers” of Resolute Forest Products. That “paper and pulp” company was exposed by Greenpeace for wantonly stripping giant swaths of land of its forests in Canada; Trump’s lawyers are suing Greenpeace for $7 million in that attempt to “silence the environmental watchdog.”
As an aside, Resolute is also suing Greenpeace for another $300 million in America alleging that the environmental watchdog “indulged in a criminal scheme against Resolute.” The criminal scheme is Greenpeace publicizing a “critique of the company’s forestry practices using sound opinion based on reliable scientific evidence.” Like the ETP lawsuit, the allegations against environmental groups claiming terrorism, defamation, and organized criminal activity are substitute words for “constitutionally-protected free speech” about the danger of denuding the landscape and building leak-prone crude oil pipelines.
One of the attorney’s representing Greenpeace, Tom Wetterer, respond to the ETP filing and said:
“Trump’s lawyers 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 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.”
One can’t help but believe that Trump’s lawyers suing environmental watchdogs on the pipeline owners’ behalf is more than just a coincidence. It is noteworthy that within four days of being inaugurated, Trump overturned President Obama’s decision to halt DAPL’s construction and wait for a proper environmental impact report. Within a month of Trump’s executive order, Energy Transfer Partners officials began using “aggressive force” such as military assault vehicles, tear gas, concussion grenades, rubber bullets and water cannons against the unarmed water protectors. The “battlefield” tactics worked in pushing “water protectors” off the land effectively shutting down the Native American protests.
According to Jennie Neufeld writing for Alternet, not only are Trump’s personal lawyers “building ETP’s case against Greenpeace and Earth First, Trump has a vested interest in the pipeline’s completion after investing up to $1 million in the company according to disclosures related to the 2016 campaign.”
It is also no coincidence that the Trump Victory Fund was the recipient of a $100,000 “contribution” from ETP’s CEO Kelcy Warren. A contribution Trump remunerated with a “go-ahead” on DAPL and probably a note to his personal lawyers to file a lawsuit labeling the pipeline’s protestors terrorists and drug schemers.
There is no doubt these lawsuits will be on the increase, and like Trump and his lawyers’ ETP lawsuit, there is a huge push to “brand the activists as terrorists.” In fact, ETP hired TigerSwan, “a group founded by retired members of a U.S. military counterterrorism unit, Delta Force” to combat the legal protestors. And after a private document was leaked to the Intercept, it revealed that the former “counterterrorism” unit members compared the Native American demonstrators to “jihadists” and the entire protest movement “an ideologically driven insurgency with a strong religious component.”
Those so-called “jihadists” and “ideologically driven insurgents” are what normal people would label Americans concerned about their environment and are only exercising their constitutionally-protected right of free speech. But this is Trump’s America now and what was once normal is now terrorism.