New on 'Connect the Dots': The Frontline Communities Fighting Back Against Polluting Pipelines

by James Goodwin

February 21, 2019

For affected indigenous communities in the United States and Canada, new oil and gas pipelines snaking across their lands represent a new kind of attack. Dirty, polluting, dangerous, and built without the communities' consent, these pipelines are the inevitable outcome of North America's hydraulic fracturing and tar sands oil "revolutions" that have played out in recent decades. These indigenous frontline communities must bear the disproportionate costs brought about by developed nations' continued addiction to fossil fuels, all without seeing most of the benefits. In a special preview episode of Season 2 of the Connect the Dots podcast, CPR President Rob Verchick explores this poignant case study of environmental injustice with the guidance of Rachel Rye Butler, the head of the Democracy Campaign at Greenpeace.

As Rachel tells Rob, the First Nations people in Canada and Native Americans in the United States have been protesting the development of the pipelines for several years in order to stop their unbridled expansion. The most successful movements Greenpeace has seen are those led by the indigenous peoples who are on the front lines of this struggle. In the last decade, not one of the five tar sands pipelines that has been proposed – including, most famously, the Keystone XL pipeline – has been built, largely thanks to the indigenous-led movement.

Of course, these successes have not gone unnoticed by the powerful oil and gas industries, which have gone to extreme lengths to defeat protest efforts. Just last week, one of the more outlandish of these measures was formally resolved when a judge dismissed a $900 million lawsuit brought by Energy Transfer, a large pipeline company, against Greenpeace under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO.

If you watch enough gangster films, you probably recognize RICO as the statute that Congress created to help bring down mobsters and organized crime outfits. Yet apparently, the oil and gas industry was desperate enough to try to manipulate this law as a means for attacking an environmental nonprofit organization that was helping Native Americans exercise their rights to protect their property and health. Fortunately, justice – and good sense – prevailed.

But this enormous suit – seeking nearly a billion dollars in damages – based on "Hail Mary" legal theory demonstrates just how large the stakes are in the fights that Native Americans are waging against oil and gas pipelines. Rob's interview with Rachel offers a detailed look behind the scenes of these fights, including the courageous actions being taken by Native American communities, the efforts of Greenpeace and other public interest organizations that support these communities, and the changing economic and political dynamics that are aligning against the construction of new pipelines. Be sure to tune in to learn more.

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Also from James Goodwin

James Goodwin, J.D., M.P.P., is a Senior Policy Analyst with the Center for Progressive Reform. He joined CPR in May of 2008.

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