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Energy Transfer Strikes Back, Sues Green Groups Behind DAPL Protests

Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) backer Energy Transfer Partners LP is suing Greenpeace International and numerous other environmental groups that organized the much-publicized protests against the project, claiming the groups violated federal racketeering laws and committed terrorist acts.

In a filing Tuesday with a U.S. district court in North Dakota, lawyers for Energy Transfer described Greenpeace, Earth First!, BankTrack Foundation and several others as "a network of putative not-for-profits and rogue eco-terrorist groups," and accused the groups of organizing a "criminal enterprise" designed to spread misinformation about DAPL to profit from donations.

The complaint also accused the groups of carrying out cyberattacks against Energy Transfer and its employees, inciting violence during protests against the crude oil pipeline and engaging in a campaign to harm the company's financial standing.

According to the complaint, the campaign against DAPL emerged only after "extensive and well-documented community outreach" and "tribal consultation undertaken by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers" leading up to the project's approval. The complaint accused the groups of exploiting the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to help spread emotional appeals through the media when "during the planning and construction of the pipeline, DAPL attempted to directly engage with relevant tribes even though the project does not pass over any sovereign Native American territory at any point along its route."

The day after the project was approved Energy Transfer was "besieged with an attack from numerous, highly aggressive and organized groups, all singing from the same hymnal. It was as if the entire campaign came in a box. And of course it did, and its objective was not to protect the environment or Native Americans but to produce as sensational and public a dispute as possible, and to use that publicity and emotion to drive fundraising while at the same time inflicting harm on Plaintiffs," the complaint said.

The 187-page complaint provided detailed tables listing numerous anti-DAPL publications and social media posts from 350.org, EarthJustice and others, claiming each constitutes "a separate mail or wire communication in furtherance of the fraudulent scheme."

Calling the DAPL protests "a relentless campaign of lies and outright mob thuggery," the complaint argued that "the damage to plaintiffs' relationships with the capital markets has been substantial, impairing access to financing and increasing their cost of capital and ability to fund future projects at economic rates. Moreover, plaintiffs incurred substantial expenditures to mitigate the direct impact of the opposition's slander campaign and the violent protests."

Calling for a jury trial, Energy Transfer is accusing the groups of, among other things, violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act and the U.S. Patriot Act by "funding, directing, controlling and intentionally inciting acts of terrorism" that involved "damaging or attempting to damage an energy facility and committing arson on federal property and on private property used for interstate commerce."

According to the complaint, Energy Transfer has suffered at least $300 million in damages as a result of the groups' actions. In addition to seeking compensation for damages and court costs, Energy Transfer is calling for the groups to forfeit "illicit proceeds" from fundraising campaigns that "intentionally published false and injurious statements" about the company.

Energy Transfer is represented by Vogel Law Firm and by Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP, the law firm of Marc Kasowitz, who has represented President Trump on multiple occasions.

In response to Energy Transfer's DAPL lawsuit, Greenpeace USA General Counsel Tom Wetterer focused on the Kasowitz firm’s Trump ties.

"This is the second consecutive year Donald Trump's go-to attorneys at the Kasowitz law firm have filed a meritless lawsuit against Greenpeace,” Wetterer said. “They are apparently trying to market themselves as corporate mercenaries willing to abuse the legal system to silence legitimate advocacy work. This complaint repackages spurious allegations and legal claims made against Greenpeace by the Kasowitz firm on behalf of Resolute Forest Products in a lawsuit filed in May 2016.

"It is yet another classic 'Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation' (SLAPP), not designed to seek justice, but to silence free speech through expensive, time-consuming litigation. This has become a pattern of harassment by corporate bullies, with Trump's attorneys leading the way."

DAPL, a $3.8 billion, nearly 1,200-mile crude oil pipeline designed to serve the Bakken Shale, began flowing earlier this year. Boosted by the Trump administration, the project received a key easement in February, a reversal of an Obama administration decision to reject the easement and seek alternative routes.

Energy Transfer management, speaking to Congress, previously expressed its concerns over the tactics used by DAPL opponents.

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