BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A federal judge has set a Monday deadline for the environmental entity Earth First to explain what he says appears to be discrepancies in its argument that it can’t be sued for opposing the Dakota Access oil pipeline.
The Center for Constitutional Rights maintains Earth First is an unstructured social movement or philosophy, similar to Black Lives Matter, and can’t be sued. However, U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson says Earth First has been a listed plaintiff in three federal lawsuits in the 1980s and 1990s, involving a water project in Arizona, a wilderness area in Oregon and a New Mexico canyon important to American Indians.
“If Earth First can sue, it seems to me that it is subject to being sued,” Wilson said in a March 22 order.
Center attorney Pamela Spees did not immediately respond to an Associated Press request for comment Friday.
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Texas-based pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners in August sued Earth First, Greenpeace and BankTrack for up to $1 billion, alleging they disseminated false and misleading information about the $3.8 billion pipeline that’s now moving oil from North Dakota to Illinois, and instigated violent protests while the pipeline was under construction.
ETP lawyers maintain Earth First has been served with the lawsuit via Earth First Journal, whose website bills the Florida-based environmental publication as a forum for discussion within the Earth First movement.
Spees, who represents the journal, says it and the movement aren’t the same thing. She sought sanctions including attorney fees against ETP for what she asserted was “intentional and reckless disregard of their duties to the court.”
Wilson denied the request. And while he said that he doesn’t think serving the lawsuit on the journal is adequate, “it appears to me, also, that Earth First and/or the journal is dancing around.” He ordered Spees to provide information on who ETP should serve with the lawsuit.
“I prefer not to waste time with this sort of issue,” he said.
The larger question surrounding the lawsuit is whether the environmental groups worked to undermine the pipeline project. Greenpeace and BankTrack maintain the lawsuit is meritless and an attack on free speech. ETP says it’s seeking to vindicate damage from criminal activity, not peaceful speech.
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