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Dakota Access Pipeline owner sues Greenpeace, arguing it broke organized crime law

Juanita Cabrera Lopez, of the Maya Mam Nation, from Washington, says a prayer on Capitol Hill during a December 2016 demonstration to protest the Dakota Access oil pipeline. (Alex Brandon/AP)

The company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, which drew international attention for potentially endangering the water supply of Native American tribes in the Dakotas, accused Greenpeace and other environmental activists who helped organize protests of eco-terrorism, racketeering and other crimes.

By filing a lawsuit against the activists in U.S. District Court in North Dakota on Tuesday, the Dallas-based oil and gas company Energy Transfer Partners became the second firm to accuse Greenpeace of breaking a federal organized crime law used to try members of the mafia, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO Act.

Federal judge orders environmental review of Dakota Access pipeline

Last year, a Canadian logging company, Resolute Forest Products, filed a RICO lawsuit against Greenpeace after the environmental group mounted a multimedia campaign against the company for harvesting trees in Canada’s sensitive boreal forests. As part of that campaign, Greenpeace branded Resolute a “forest destroyer.”

In their respective lawsuits, Energy Transfer Partners and Resolute are being represented by Kasowitz, Benson & Torres LLP, a law firm founded by Marc Kasowitz, President Trump’s longtime attorney who was sidelined recently in the Russia investigations.

Greenpeace defended its activism, accusing the firm’s lawyers of being “corporate mercenaries willing to abuse the legal system to silence legitimate advocacy work,” according Tom Wetterer, general counsel for Greenpeace USA.

An anti-pipeline protest has become a rallying point for Native Americans. Here's what you need to know. (Video: Daron Taylor/The Washington Post)

The lawsuit was filed against both Greenpeace’s U.S. chapter and the international umbrella organization, Greenpeace International.

“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 in a statement.

He added that the complaint “repackages spurious allegations and legal claims made against Greenpeace by the Kasowitz firm on behalf of Resolute.”

Rodrigo Estrada, a Greenpeace USA spokesman, said the group has not “been served papers yet.”

President Trump injected new life into the oil infrastructure project through an executive order in January, only four days after taking office. A month earlier, the Army Corps of Engineers under President Barack Obama shut down construction of the final piece of the pipeline under Lake Oahe, near the border between North and South Dakota, to consider alternative routes. But Trump’s revival put the pipeline on track to begin pumping by June.

The Obama administration’s decision to halt construction followed months of protests from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and other Native American groups over concerns the 1,172-mile pipeline, meant to deliver Bakken shale oil to Midwestern refineries, would imperil drinking water and disturb sacred burial and archaeological sites.

But Energy Transfer Partners accused the individuals and organizations named in the lawsuit — labeled “putative not-for-profits and rogue eco-terrorist groups” in a court filing — of fabricating GPS coordinates for cultural and religious artifacts found along the pipeline route. The company also accused Greenpeace and others of falsely claiming that the company encroached on tribal treaty lands.

But perhaps the most provocative charge was that the environmentalists, through two of the groups named in the lawsuit, Earth First! and Red Warrior Camp, violated the U.S. Patriot Act by attempting to sabotage the pipeline, acts that, according to the company, amounted to “serious terrorist threats.”

The ultimate goal of the environmental campaign, according to the pipeline company, was to hoodwink donors and grant-makers into giving money to the environmental organizations by creating a media fury.

Meanwhile, Energy Transfer Partners, which had a market capitalization of nearly $22 billion on Tuesday, said the protests harmed its relationship with investors and banks.

The pair of RICO lawsuits from Energy Transfer Partners and Resolute turn a legal tactic pushed by Greenpeace on its head. Last year, Greenpeace urged the Justice Department to investigate ExxonMobil, the largest oil and gas firm in the country, for misleading shareholders and the public of the risks of climate change.

President Trump joked about how little he was criticized for approving the last section of the Dakota Access pipeline. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: JONATHAN ERNST/The Washington Post)