We’re obliged to bring to our readers’ attention a distressing situation affecting one of our longtime readers and guest bloggers, Paonia-based environmental activist Pete Kolbenschlag. For years, Kolbenschlag has provided our community with insightful commentary on energy and conservation issues affecting Colorado’s energy-rich Western Slope.
But as the Grand Junction Sentinel’s Dennis Webb reported this week, Kolbenschlag has been hit with what’s known as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) by energy company SG Interests over comments he made on an online news story:
Pete Kolbenschlag says the suit brought by SG Interests against him is unfounded and an attempt to silence him. He has raised more than $10,000 from more than 150 donors in just four days in an ongoing crowd-funding effort to pay for his defense.
SG Interests sued Kolbenschlag Feb. 21 in district court in Delta County over a comment he posted on the Glenwood Springs Post Independent website about a Nov. 28 article in that newspaper. The article said SGI planned to sue the federal government over the Bureau of Land Management’s cancellation of 18 SGI leases in the Thompson Divide southwest of Glenwood Springs, based on evidence of alleged collusion between the Obama administration and environmentalists to reach a predetermined political conclusion.
SGI proceeded with suing over the lease cancellations on Feb. 10.
The company says Kolbenschlag falsely stated in response to the Nov. 28 article that while SGI alleges collusion, “let us recall that it, SGI, was actually fined for colluding … to rig bid prices and rip off American taxpayers.”
And as Webb continues, Kolbenschlag appears to be right:
Kolbenschlag’s comments were a reference to allegations by the Justice Department that SGI and Gunnison Energy Corp. colluded in acquiring four leases covering some 3,500 acres in the Ragged Mountain area of Delta and Gunnison counties. The companies agreed in 2013 to pay a combined amount of more than $1 million to settle a civil antitrust action and alleged violations of the False Claims Act in the case. [Pols emphasis] Neither company admitted wrongdoing.
The fact that the companies settled without admitting wrongdoing appears to be the basis for the libel claim by SG Interests, which strikes us as extremely dubious–if not legally than certainly morally. Moreover, there’s no reason to believe that a comment on an online news story of a small-town paper would be injurious to this large energy company. The tactic of large companies filing libel or other such civil suits against individual critics is deeply controversial even with far nastier subject matter.
We can’t forget that this is the same SG Interests who Rep. Scott Tipton admitted to letting directly author large portions of legislation he introduced addressing the conflict over drilling in the Thompson Divide area:
In an interview, Tipton confirmed its origin, and documents obtained by The Denver Post show that Tipton’s draft legislation duplicates — word for word — entire sections of the proposal offered by SG Interests.
Writing at this blog and elsewhere, Kolbenschlag has been highly critical of SG Interests, their large donations to Tipton, and Tipton’s role as a vehicle for their desired policies. We’d say it’s likely that the comment Kolbenschlag is not anything close to the most serious allegation he has made about the company–it’s just the one they decided they could sue over.
With all of this in mind, we hope our readers will head over to Kolbenschlag’s legal defense fund page and consider helping him out as he readies for his David vs. Goliath legal battle. As of this writing, the page is up to $16,175. Legal defense isn’t cheap, and nobody has deep pockets like the energy biz.
Good luck to Mr. Kolbenschlag, and thanks again for all the great posts.