Dakota Access pipeline developer defends racketeering claims

September 20, 2018 - 4:15 pm
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BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The company that built the Dakota Access oil pipeline says environmental group Greenpeace should be held legally accountable for violating federal racketeering laws.

Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners sued Greenpeace and two other groups for up to $1 billion last year, arguing they worked to undermine the $3.8 billion pipeline that's now shipping oil from North Dakota to Illinois. Greenpeace recently asked to be dismissed from the case, after a federal judge dismissed the other two groups. But the company argued this week that there was plentiful evidence of "malicious criminal conduct" by Greenpeace.

In court documents filed Tuesday, company attorneys allege that Greenpeace knowingly disseminated false information about the pipeline to obtain donations and incite unrest, including to company lenders and investors to hurt ETP financially. The company also alleges the environmental group organized and funded a violent protest faction in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

"Defendants' RICO enterprise comprised three related components," ETP attorney Jennifer Recine wrote in the court filing, arguing that Greenpeace was employing similar tactics against ETP pipeline projects in Pennsylvania and Louisiana.

Greenpeace argued in its dismissal request this month that ETP's claims were "generalized and implausible."

ETP filed the lawsuit last year against Earth First, BankTrack and three Greenpeace groups — Greenpeace, Greenpeace International and Greenpeace Fund.

The groups argued the lawsuit was an attack on free speech.

But in the documents filed Tuesday, Recine argued that ETP wasn't trying "to limit anyone's exercise of any legally protected conduct." Rather, the company is seeking "to vindicate its own legal rights in the face of the Greenpeace defendants' malicious criminal conduct."

U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson dismissed BankTrack and Earth First as defendants in the case this summer. He said ETP failed to make a case that Earth First is an entity that can be sued. The judge said BankTrack's actions in imploring banks not to fund the pipeline did not amount to radical ecoterrorism.

In July, Wilson denied a motion by Greenpeace to be dismissed. But he also ordered ETP to revise the lawsuit, which the judge said contained vague claims. Company lawyers did so last month.

Groups and American Indian tribes who feared environmental harm from the pipeline staged large protests that resulted in 761 arrests in southern North Dakota over a six-month span beginning in late 2016.

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