Yeah, what the sign says.
Yeah, what the sign says.
Photo: AP

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is suing the federal government over suspicions that it’ll be working closely with local police departments and private security agencies to keep protests to a minimum as the Keystone XL Pipeline inches closer to reality.


The group launched the lawsuit Tuesday in the U.S. District Court of Montana against the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Department of the Interior, and Department of Justice. The goal? To retrieve records and plans these federal agencies have to surveil and quash protests led by those hoping to stop the pipeline. The ACLU and ACLU of Montana have requested federal documents and believe there’s more the government is withholding. Records released to date indicate “substantial evidence” of preventative measures the feds are already taking in preparation for potential protests including counterterrorism training, according to a blog post.

The blog post on the issue reads:

From these [requested] records, we hope to determine what plans the government has for thwarting, surveilling, and otherwise engaging with indigenous and environmental activists who oppose the construction of another oil pipeline. We also hope to determine whether and how the federal government is targeting indigenous communities to preempt political protest.


There’s precedent for these concerns. Investigations eventually uncovered that people who participated in protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock were being heavily surveilled by local police departments and private contractors. At least one undercover FBI informant even infiltrated the camps where opponents were staying. This suit also comes as various states around the country pass laws to restrict organizing aimed at stopping energy projects like Keystone XL.  

Construction on the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would run from Alberta to Nebraska, is set to begin next year, and developer TransCanada has already begun writing up road agreements with county officials in South Dakota. Resistance is expected, and this lawsuit could shed light on how the company and law enforcement seek to retaliate.

Yessenia Funes is a senior staff writer with Earther. She loves all things environmental justice and dreams of writing children's books.

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