SGI sues environmental activist for online comment

SG Interests (SGI) has filed suit against environmental consultant and activist Pete Kolbenschlag for a comment he posted on the Post Independent website last November.

Often referred to as SLAPP suits — Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation — libel suits are used by corporations to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their activism. In this case SGI clearly intends to intimidate Kolbenschlag.

Why Pete Kolbenschlag?

As the owner of Mountain West Strategies in Paonia, Colorado, it is Pete’s job to assist communities in building coalitions between citizens and businesses to protect their economic and natural resources.

In his own words Pete describes himself this way:

“I am an activist who cares about, and have made it my life’s work, protecting public lands, public health, clean air, clean water and a livable climate. I have been doing this work for nearly 20 years in Colorado, based out of a small rural community.

“By standing up effectively and consistently I have attracted powerful enemies. A deep-pocketed oil and gas company that wants to ramp up fracking and drilling in our agricultural valley seems intent to shut me up. It has filed a frivolous lawsuit against me that is a waste of the court’s time. But now I am forced to defend myself there all the same.

“Over the years, I have been effective in campaigns and community driven efforts at winning greater protections for our shared environment, stopping bad proposals on our public lands, and standing up for western Colorado.

“When oil and gas proposals began popping up around the small towns and family farms of Colorado’s North Fork Valley, my home, I helped organize the community to fight back. We won that battle — but the larger campaign goes on. Oil and gas companies that want to frack for shale gas already have big plans in place to install dozens of new wells up valley over the next several years.”

One of those companies that will be drilling the Upper North Fork is SGI — and Pete Kolbenschlag will be their number one headache. They know him well.

Why is SGI suing Pete Kolbenschlag for libel?

Let’s go back to the article published in the Post Independent on November 28: Divide lease decision likely to land in court

In the article, VP Robbie Gunn said SGI would sue the BLM over the Thompson Divide lease cancellations. They proceeded with that lawsuit on February 10.

But that’s not what this lawsuit is about. This lawsuit is about Pete Kolbenschlag’s comment on the article:

While SGI alleges “collusion” let us recall that it, SGI, was actually fined for colluding (with GEC) to rig bid prices and rip off American taxpayers. Yes, these two companies owned by billionaires thought it appropriate to pad their portfolios at the expense of you and I and every other hard-working American.

“High Country Citizens’ Alliance public lands director Matt Reed said, “It seems to me that it’s proof of collusion to defraud the American public, to defraud the federal government. It makes me question that if [GEC and SGI] are going to be less than honest in a federal lease sale, how can the public trust them when they say they’ll be good environmental stewards and try to protect water quality and air quality?” He adds, “It certainly raises some questions.”

And from the US Justice Dept
https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-settlement-requires-gunnison-energy-and-sg-interests-pay-united-states

“Today’s unprecedented antitrust enforcement action involving illegal bidding at Bureau of Land Management auctions, demonstrates the U.S. government’s resolve to ensure there is vigorous competition for federal oil and gas rights,” said Sharis A. Pozen, Acting Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division. “At a time of budgetary constraint, it is crucial that the federal government receive the most competitive prices for these important leases, which ultimately benefits American taxpayers.”

According to an article in the Daily Sentinel, SGI claims that this statement is false: “let us recall that it, SGI, was actually fined for colluding (with GEC) to rig bid prices and rip off American taxpayers.”

Except here’s the thing — his comment is not false. He even backed it up with a link to the Justice Dept.

According to the Sentinel article:

In its suit against Kolbenschlag, SGI said his statement “is contrary to the true facts and reasonable people reading the assertion would be likely to think less favorably about SGI than they would if they knew the true facts” …

… The suit asks for damages “in an amount to be proven at trial,” and for costs and attorney fees …

Kolbenschlag told the Sentinel:  “I believe the substance of the complaint is without merit and the lawsuit is frivolous.”

He has hired Denver attorney Steven Zansberg, who will seek a dismissal of the libel suit.

A crowdfunding page has been set up to help Pete Kolbenschlag with his legal defense.

“A win for me is a win for activism, and a black eye for the questionable tactics of suing citizens for speaking out.” — Pete Kolbenschlag

Come on let’s do this!

SLAPP Back — Pete’s Activism Legal Defense Fund

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