BISMARCK - Energy Transfer Partners filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against Greenpeace and other organizations, claiming they incited “rogue eco-terrorist groups” to spread false and misleading information about the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The lawsuit is filed in U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota by attorneys who work for the same New York firm that represents President Donald Trump.
The lawsuit alleges that Greenpeace International, BankTrack, Earth First! and others conspired to inflict damage on the pipeline developer and advance their own agendas.
The complaint alleges the organizations incited, funded and facilitated crimes and acts of terrorism to fraudulently induce donations, interfere with pipeline construction and damage the pipeline developer’s business and financial relationships.
The 187-page complaint claims the actions, including incidents that occurred during the months-long protest in North Dakota, violated federal and state racketeering statutes and constituted defamation and tortious interference with business.
The lawsuit says Energy Transfer Partners lost at least $300 million due to the tactics, but maintains the full extent of damage can only be determined at trial. The company is seeking triple damages, which could approach $1 billion, as well as punitive damages.
Greenpeace USA general counsel Tom Wetterer said in a statement Tuesday the lawsuit is “not designed to seek justice, but to silence free speech through expensive, time-consuming litigation.”
Wetterer called the case a strategic lawsuit against public participation, or SLAPP. The same firm, Kasowitz, Benson & Torres, represented Resolute Forest Products in a similar lawsuit filed against Greenpeace last year.
“This has now become a pattern of harassment by corporate bullies, with Trump’s attorneys leading the way,” Wetterer said.
The complaint names several Greenpeace organizations as defendants, as well as environmental group Earth First! and BankTrack, an international nonprofit headquartered in The Netherlands.
Earthjustice, the law firm that represents the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in the lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is named as a member of a “criminal enterprise” but is not named as a defendant in the case.
Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen said in a statement the firm’s role was to “ensure that the legitimate claims and rights of the tribe were heard in a court of law.”
“This complaint from Energy Transfer Partners is nothing more than an attack on all those who stood up for the tribe in this historic fight, packaged as a legal claim,” Van Noppen said.
Several other individuals and organizations, including the Sierra Club, 350.org, the Red Warrior Camp, the BOLD Alliance of Nebraska, also are named as members of the so-called criminal enterprise but are not named as defendants.
Attorney Michael Bowe from Kasowitz, Benson & Torres said additional defendants could be named as more facts are known.
The complaint alleges that members of the enterprise engaged in cyber attacks on the company, interfered with construction and vandalized company equipment, used torches to damage the pipeline and issued death threats to company executives. The lawsuit also says members of the enterprise used false claims to aggressively target banks financing Dakota Access.
Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners said in a news release it believes it has an obligation to its shareholders, partners, stakeholders and those affected by the protests to file the lawsuit.
Meanwhile, in the federal court case in Washington, D.C., U.S. District Judge James Boasberg could rule as early as September on whether the $3.8 billion pipeline should be shut down while additional environmental review is conducted.
In a June ruling, Boasberg ordered the Corps to do additional environmental analysis focused on how an oil spill under Lake Oahe would affect the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Native American tribes are arguing the pipeline should be shut down while that review is conducted.