The nonprofit legal organisation EarthRights International has  published research which shows how the fossil fuel industry and ‘Big Oil’ have been targeting climate campaigners with lawsuits and other forms of “judicial harassment” aimed at silencing their protests.

In a report published this month the group has identified 152 cases in which Big Oil and fossil fuel companies have used judicial intimidation tactics in order to stop their critics from organising protests against oil, gas, and coal extraction.

SLAPP Intimidation Tactics

The “intimidation tactics” being used by ‘Big Oil’ and the fossil fuel companies have included 93 Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) and 49 “abusive subpoenas” all of which have been directed at individuals and groups.

Kirk Herbertson, senior policy adviser for EarthRights and the author of the report said:

“The fossil fuel industry has responded to growing public concern about climate change by retaliating against those who challenge its practices.

We cannot let the oil, gas, and mining industries weaponize the legal system to silence their critics.”

EarthRights Report

The Earthworks report – which is entitled “The Fossil Fuel Industry’s Use of SLAPPs and Judicial Harassment in the United States” – is the first to quantify the lengths to which the Big Oil and the fossil fuel companies are going to within the US judicial system in order to silence their critics.

So far these have included four anti-fracking activists in Colorado, a reporter who filmed their protests in 2018, a number of climate change people who demonstrated against the Dakota Access Pipeline and a grassroots group that spoke out about public health concerns regarding a coal ash landfill in Alabama.

In addition to dozens of SLAPP cases, the EarthRights report also details how a legal tactic known as “abusive subpoenas,” has frequently been used by oil companies ExxonMobil and Chevron, among others.

Although many of the subpoenas sought by fossil fuel giants were dismissed by courts, they can still have “a chilling effect” and discourage campaigners from communicating about their work.

The EarthRights International reports said:

“In 2012, Chevron tried to obtain the private communications of dozens of activists, lawyers, and scientists in retaliation for criticism of its environmental pollution in the Amazon region.”

The group released its analysis two days before Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) was set to lead a congressional hearing on “the legal assault on environmental activists and the First Amendment.”

Greenpeace representative was scheduled to testify.

For activists caught up in SLAPP litigation, legal costs can be crushing for individuals and small groups as cases drag on for years.

General counsel for Greenpeace, Deepa Padmanabha said; 

“More than six years from when the first SLAPP was filed against us, [we are] still forced to invest time and resources into these legal battles that otherwise would have been used to protect communities and the environment from toxic pollution and the existential threat of climate change.”

EarthRights included in its analysis a number of recommendations for legislatures, media organizations, courts and other stakeholders to stop powerful corporations from weaponising the judicial system against people and groups who exercise their First Amendment rights.

The group recommendations include:

1. The U.S. Congress and state lawmakers adopt strong anti-SLAPP laws, building on the progress made in 32 states, where laws of varying scope and quality have been passed.

2. Lawyers who take on their powerful clients’ SLAPP cases be sanctioned by courts and disciplined by bar associations, which ostensibly prohibit “lawyers from bringing frivolous lawsuits where there is no basis in law or fact”.

3. The federal government takes steps to ensure that law enforcement and security agencies are not perpetuating “myths that treat environmental activists and social justice leaders as terrorists,” making them more vulnerable to violence and retaliation than campaigners focused on other issues.

EarthRights said:

“ In the coming decades, debates over the future of energy will continue as climate change affects more communities across the United States. People must be able to add their voice, without fear of retaliation, to the public debates that will determine the future direction of our country and our planet.”

Energy Transfer Partners Lawsuits

Energy Transfer Partners, a company engaged in natural gas and propane pipeline transport have filed the lawsuits against Greenpeace, Earth First Movement and several individuals who supported the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in their campaign to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Energy Transfer Partners have openly admitted that their cases were meant to intimidate the protesters and anyone else who speaks out against fossil fuel projects. The company has sought $900 million in damages and invoked the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren told a North Dakota news anchor:

“Could we get some monetary damages out of this thing, and probably will we? Yeah, sure. Is that my primary objective? Absolutely not. It’s to send a message – you can’t do this, this is unlawful, and it’s not going to be tolerated in the United States.”

And Finally…..

Rambling in Pen calls on lawmakers, activists, and community leaders across the world to speak out against Big Oil and the fossil fuel industry using SLAPPs to target environmental activists and nonprofits in order to deter them from speaking out against proposed fossil fuel projects which contribute to climate change.

We believe that Big Oil and fossil fuel company executives are laughing at the people who are trying to protect our planet while they knowingly work to destroy it.

We hope you enjoyed this article. If so please share it with your friends and family.

We leave you now with a tune from the late great Bob Dylan – The Times They Are a Changin’

Peace and Tranquility.

Author: Julia Conley 

Editor: Rambling in Pen

Main article originally published by Common Dreams