Energy Transfer Partners LP accused Greenpeace International, Earth First! and other groups of inciting terrorist acts and vandalism to generate publicity and raise money for their causes while hampering the Dakota Access pipeline operator’s ability to raise money for projects.
Energy Transfer is the second company to attack Greenpeace and its allies in court for engaging in what they claim is a racketeering scheme far beyond ordinary environmental advocacy. Resolute Forest Products Inc. made similar allegations over Greenpeace’s campaign against logging in a May 2016 lawsuit. Both companies are represented by Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP, a New York-based law firm whose managing partner Marc Kasowitz is President Donald Trump’s longtime personal attorney.
Greenpeace called the lawsuit an attempt to silence free speech and legitimate advocacy work. It said it’s a classic “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation,” or SLAPP, which is intended to censor or intimidate critics by burdening them with expensive, time-consuming litigation.
“This is the second consecutive year Donald Trump’s go-to attorneys at the Kasowitz law firm have filed a meritless lawsuit against Greenpeace,” Greenpeace USA’s General Counsel Tom Wetterer said in an emailed statement. “This has now become a pattern of harassment by corporate bullies, with Trump’s attorneys leading the way.”
The construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, running from western North Dakota to southern Illinois, sparked months of protests last year with clashes between environmentalists and police drawing international attention. The $3.8 billion pipeline went into service earlier this year, following the construction of a final link under a part of Lake Oahe, near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.
Greenpeace led a corrupt environmentalist enterprise that “cynically planted radical, violent eco-terrorists on the ground amongst the protesters, and directly funded their operations and publicly urged their supporters to do the same,” Dallas-based Energy Transfer claimed in the lawsuit.
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Negative publicity generated by the demonstrations caused Energy Transfer to lose "many hundreds of millions of dollars," and damaged its ability to raise money from capital markets, according to the complaint, filed Tuesday in Bismarck, North Dakota. Energy Transfer is seeking unspecified money damages, which would be tripled under U.S. racketeering laws, a court order barring the groups from further protests and an order for the groups to return money to donors.
“Under the ‘Greenpeace Model,’ raising money and the network’s profile is the primary objective, not saving the environment,” Energy Transfer said. “‘Issues’ are selected according to which ones will generate maximum publicity and donations, irrespective of the environmental merits.”
The Energy Transfer lawsuit isn’t intended to stop anyone from speaking truthfully and responsibly, Michael Bowe, the pipeline company’s lawyer, said in a statement.
“It is a suit to hold legally responsible those who recklessly and maliciously manufactured a completely false narrative and aggressively disseminated that fiction worldwide,” Bowe said. “That is the absolute antithesis of a SLAPP suit.”
The environmentalists’ campaigns are based on fabricated evidence and witness accounts to deceive the public, Energy Transfer said in the complaint.
The criminal enterprise, through Earth First! and Red Warrior Camp, funded and incited acts of terrorism in violation of the U.S. Patriot Act, Energy Transfer claimed. That included attempts and actual destruction of an energy facility and arson on government property, the company said.
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Those acts, according to the lawsuit, included the burning of construction equipment and use of blowtorches to cut holes in parts of the pipeline. Had oil been flowing when the sabotage occurred, the pipeline might have exploded, endangering human lives and resulting in an environmental disaster, Energy Transfer said.
The company cited an incident on Aug. 12, 2016, when about 350 members of the Red Warriors entered its property without permission and Dakota Access personnel had to be evacuated with a police escort, as protesters threw rocks and bottles. In another incident, on Oct. 27, 2016, protester Red Fawn Fallis allegedly fired three shots from a pistol at a police officer. She was charged with attempted murder, Energy Transfer said. A trial is scheduled for Dec. 5, according to an advocacy website.
Among the other groups being sued by Energy Transfer is BankTrack, a Dutch not-for-profit group that raises money for non-governmental organizations.
The Dakota Access pipeline project spurred legal challenges from Native American tribes, principally the Standing Rock Sioux, objecting to the pipeline’s path across man-made Lake Oahe. Energy Transfer intervened in that action on the side of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
In June, a Washington federal court judge, having rejected earlier entreaties to block the project, said the Corps hadn’t adequately considered the impacts of a potential spill from the line on fishing, hunting and “environmental justice, or the degree to which the pipeline’s effects are likely to be highly controversial," and ordered it to reconsider those factors.
The Resolute Forest lawsuit is pending in federal court in San Francisco.
The case is Energy Transfer Equity LP v. Greenpeace International, 17-cv-173, U.S. District Court, District of North Dakota (Bismarck).