In what environmental justice groups are characterizing as legal harassment by "corporate mercenaries," the company that owns the contested Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) has filed a lawsuit against Greenpeace, Earth First!, BankTrack, and individuals who oppposed and protested the pipeline, claiming over $300 million in damages.
The "meritless lawsuit" is "not designed to seek justice, but to silence free speech through expensive, time-consuming litigation."
—Tom Wetterer, Greenpeace attorneyGreenpeace general counsel Tom Wetterer said the "meritless lawsuit" is "not designed to seek justice, but to silence free speech through expensive, time-consuming litigation."
DAPL developer Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) in a 187-page complaint (pdf), claims the groups "employ patterns of criminal activity and campaigns of misinformation to target legitimate companies and industries with fabricated environmental claims and other purported misconduct, inflicting billions of dollars in damage."
Kasowitz law firm, which is representing ETP, filed another lawsuit against Greenpeace last year, and is also reportedly representing President Donald Trump in the ongoing federal investigation into allegations that Trump's campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 campaign.
"This has now become a pattern of harassment by corporate bullies, with Trump's attorneys leading the way," Wetterer said. "They are apparently trying to market themselves as corporate mercenaries willing to abuse the legal system to silence legitimate advocacy work."
Seeking nearly $1 billion in damages, ETP accuses the environmentalists of defamation, illegal business interference, and violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, a federal law often used to target mobsters and that, according to the Justice Department, "was passed by Congress with the declared purpose of seeking to eradicate organized crime in the United States."
The complaint claims Greenpeace launches "fraudulent, slanderous" campaigns "based upon fabricated evidence and witness accounts," to "generate maximum publicity and donations, irrespective of the environmental merit," purporting that "raising money and the network's profile is the primary objective, not saving the environment."
It also claims the environmental organizations—which it calls"militant eco-terrorist groups"—"knowingly funded, controlled, directed, and incited acts of terrorism," and "used this manufactured crisis to relentlessly campaign against DAPL based on a series of demonstrably false lies and illegal activity designed to publicize those lies." ETP claims their financial losses were the result of the environmentalists "targetting [ETP's] banks, investors, research analysts, and other critical business constituents."
"These damages," the complaint concludes, "were intentionally and maliciously inflicted based upon a relentless campaign of lies and outright mob thuggery. Defendants must be held accountable for these damages."
BankTrack called the allegations "outrageous" and, echoing Greenpeace, said in a statement that the lawsuit is an attempt "to silence civil society organizations, and to curb their crucial role in helping to foster business conduct globally that protects the environment, recognizes the rights and interests of all stakeholders, and respects human rights."
The statement also said:
We consider it perfectly within our right and our stated mission to inform the general public on potential or actual negative social, environmental, and human rights impacts of projects to be financed by private sector banks. We also consider it competely within our right to bring information on such projects, including indicators of widespread public concern, to the attention of banks, so that they can make their own assessment of the materiality of this information, and let this weigh into their own decision making processes.
Despite several months of protests by indigenous people and environmentalists from international nonprofit groups like Greenpeace, the pipeline became fully operational and began transporting oil from North Dakota to Illinois June 1. Two weeks later, the environmentalists—who call themselves water protectors—celebrated when a federal judge ordered ETP and the Army Corps of Engineers to reconsider their analysis of environmental risks posed by the pipeline. The ruling, however, did not stop the flow of oil. Four Sioux tribes and DAPL opponents are still fighting in federal court in order to shut it down.