Coverage by The Des Moines Register, Des Moines, Iowa, August 22, 2017
The developer of the Dakota Access pipeline has filed a sweeping federal lawsuit that includes allegations of participation in a criminal enterprise against three Iowa activist groups, including the Sierra Club, Bold Iowa, and Mississippi Stand.
Energy Transfer Partners of Dallas, Texas, listed the lawsuit’s defendants as Greenpeace International, Earth First!, BankTrack, and other organizations and individuals. The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in North Dakota and seeks damages of not less than $1 billion.
“This case involves a network of putative not-for-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, inflicting billions of dollars in damage,” the lawsuit claims.
Two members of Mississippi Stand group, Jessica Reznicek, 36, and Ruby Montoya, 27, both of Des Moines, have claimed responsibility for efforts to sabotage the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline, including arson and other vandalism that allegedly caused millions of dollars in damage. Neither have been charged, but the Des Moines Catholic Worker house where they reside was raided earlier this month by FBI agents who searched for evidence related to pipeline sabotage.
Ed Fallon of Des Moines, a leader of Bold Iowa, which recently began operating independently from the Nebraska-based Bold Alliance, said he takes the lawsuit seriously but he considers it to be frivolous. He noted that Dakota Access withdrew a federal lawsuit last year that sought a restraining order against Bold Iowa and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, both of which have opposed the pipeline.
The 187-page lawsuit alleges violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) under federal and state laws and common law. The suit does not name any American Indian tribes as defendants in the lawsuit, although many tribes strongly opposed allowing the pipeline to cross the Missouri River near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in southern North Dakota.
Greenpeace USA General Counsel Tom Wetterer said in a statement Tuesday he considers the lawsuit to be without merit. “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,” he said.
The suit alleges that a number of co-conspirators, including the three Iowa activist organizations, were involved in a criminal enterprise. The alleged purpose was to fraudulently induce donations, interfere with pipeline construction activities, and damage Energy Transfer’s critical business and financial relationships, the plaintiffs said.
The complaint also alleges the criminal enterprise incited, funded, and facilitated crimes and acts of terrorism to further these objectives.
Representatives of all three Iowa organizations told The Des Moines Register Tuesday they strongly dispute the claims in the lawsuit. They said they continue to oppose the $3.8 billion pipeline, which began transporting crude oil on June 1 from North Dakota’s Bakken oil patch to Patoka, Ill., while passing through 18 Iowa counties.
The pipeline has been fought by Indian tribes and environmental activists who claim it contributes to global warming by use of fossil fuels, threatens water supplies and interferes with native ancestral lands. In addition, Iowa farmers have opposed the state’s authorization of eminent domain to obtain access to their land for the pipeline.
“We didn’t do anything outside legal avenues,” said Wallace Taylor of Cedar Rapids, a lawyer for the Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club. He said it appears the lawsuit is intended to intimidate public interest defendants and to stifle citizen action. The Sierra Club continues to challenge the state’s approval of the Dakota Access project before the Iowa Supreme Court, he noted.
Frank Cordaro of Des Moines, a Catholic Worker activist who was involved in the Mississippi Stand protests against the pipeline in southeast Iowa, described the lawsuit as an example of corporate bullying.
“They own the courts and they own the government. This is just amazing. That is all that I can say,” Cordaro said.