Dallas Goldtooth (Mdewakanton Dakota and Dińe) of the Indigenous Environmental Network rallies the crowd at the Native Nations Rise rally in Washington, D.C, on March 10, 2017. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Wealthy backers of Dakota Access claim opponents caused 'billions' in losses

The wealthy backers of the Dakota Access Pipeline are taking aim at some of the biggest opponents of the controversial project in a lawsuit that claims #NoDAPL efforts caused "billions of dollars" in damages.

But Energy Transfer Partners isn't directing its massive resources at the tribal leaders and tribal activists who led the fight against the pipeline. Such a move would likely trigger more unfavorable media coverage of a company whose chief executive is worth billions and was one of the top individual donors to Republican Donald Trump during the presidential campaign last year.

Instead, the firm is accusing non-Indian activists and environmental groups of spreading "lies" and "misinformation" about the $3.8 billion crude oil project. The targets include Earthjustice, a non-profit law organization whose attorneys are helping the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe with an ongoing challenge to the pipeline.

"“Representing the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in their laudable effort to protect their water and sacred lands from the Dakota Access Pipeline is one of Earthjustice’s proudest moments," Trip Van Noppen, the president of the organization, said in a statement in response to the lawsuit.

"The Standing Rock Sioux are the true leaders of what became a massive movement," Van Noppen added. "Earthjustice’s role has been to ensure that the legitimate claims and rights of the tribe were heard in a court of law."

The tribe's case is proceeding in federal court in Washington, D.C., where a judge ruled that the final portion of the pipeline was approved in violation of environmental law. The June 14 decision confirmed that the Trump administration, among other shortcomings, failed to address the project's impact on treaty rights.

Yet Energy Transfer is attempting to divert the narrative from that issue with a lawsuit filed over 1,500 miles away in North Dakota. The complaint focuses heavily on alleged "misrepresentations" about the pipeline's path, citing posts on environmental websites in which treaties signed at Fort Laramie in 1851 and 1868 were used to bolster opposition to Dakota Access.

"Through intentional and repeated misstatements, the enterprise has created the widespread misperception that the pipeline travels through SRST Reservation land or, alternatively, that there is some legitimate dispute about whether the Sioux Tribe holds title to some of the land the pipeline crosses in North Dakota," the complaint reads, with "enterprise" referring to the "putative not-for-profits and rogue eco-terrorist groups" who fought the project.

Wherever they build, Energy Transfer Partners steals land, poisons air and water, and trashes the climate. Enough is...

Posted by Indigenous Environmental Network on Wednesday, August 23, 2017
Indigenous Environmental Network on Facebook: #StopETP Day of Action on September 9

Energy Transfer is also trying to mend its reputation after being associated with the state of North Dakota's brutal response to the #NoDAPL campaign. Even though the firm brought in security guards who unleashed dogs and mace on pipeline opponents and relied on individuals who lacked licenses to engage in security work, the lawsuit claims environmental groups disseminated "false claims" about the crackdowns last year.

"The so-called 'peaceful protests' were anything but peaceful, and the enterprise deliberately infiltrated the protest campaigns with violent radicals to ensure that end," the complaint alleges. An appendix says Energy Transfer was accused of engaging in "excessive force" in North Dakota.

And while Energy Transfer won the battle to finish the pipeline with the help of the Trump administration, the firm appears to be re-litigating some major issues that it has repeatedly said are without merit. Those issues include the tribe's claims of inadequate consultation as well as the reported destruction of sacred sites and cultural artifacts along the path of the pipeline in North Dakota.

As part of the tribe's lawsuit in D.C., the judge repeatedly refused to shut down construction of the pipeline based on those claims. Yet Energy Transfer, whose legal team includes a firm founded by Trump's personal attorney, appears happy to keep them alive by going after the environmental organizations.

“This is the second consecutive year Donald Trump’s go-to attorneys at the Kasowitz law firm have filed a meritless lawsuit against Greenpeace," Greenpeace USA General Counsel Tom Wetterer said in a statement. "They are apparently trying to market themselves as corporate mercenaries willing to abuse the legal system to silence legitimate advocacy work."

Oil started flowing through the Dakota Access Pipeline on June 1. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe have asked a judge to halt operations pending a new review of the final portion in North Dakota.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved that portion in February after being directed to "expedite" the project by President Trump. The agency has yet to initiate an environmental impact statement for the final leg, more than two months after the judge's directive, but the Trump administration is already hinting that another review won't make a difference.

"There is a serious possibility that the Corps will substantiate its prior decisions, in part because the risk that any oil will spill into Lake Oahe is low," government attorneys wrote in an August 17 brief. The final portion crosses federally-managed land at Lake Oahe along the Missouri River in North Dakota.

A prior filing indicated that an answer might emerge from the Army Corps in December. That gives Energy Transfer, whose annual revenues are about $40 billion, according to the lawsuit, even longer to keep its pipeline up and running.

"Wherever they build, Energy Transfer Partners steals land, poisons air and water, and trashes the climate. Enough is enough," the Indigenous Environmental Network, one of the leading voices against Dakota Access, said in a post on Facebook announcing September 9 as the #StopETP Day of Action.

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