Logging and pipeline companies are using a new legal tactic to seek damages from Greenpeace and other groups. The long-shot cases are having a chilling effect.
Then, on the last day of that month, Greenpeace and Stand were hit with an unusual lawsuit brought by Resolute Forest Products, one of Canada’s largest logging and paper companies, that could cost the groups hundreds of millions of dollars if Resolute wins.
The timber company said the organizations, which for years had campaigned against Resolute’s logging in Canada’s boreal forest, were conspiring illegally to extort the company’s customers and defraud their own donors.
Invoking the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, a federal conspiracy law devised to ensnare mobsters, the suit accuses the organizations, as well as several green campaigners individually and numerous unidentified “co-conspirators,” of running what amounts to a giant racket.
“Maximizing donations, not saving the environment, is Greenpeace’s true objective,” the complaint says. “Its campaigns are consistently based on sensational misinformation untethered to facts or science, but crafted instead to induce strong emotions and, thereby, donations.” Dozens of the group’s campaign emails and tweets, it said, constituted wire fraud.
“As an NGO, that is a deeply chilling argument,” said Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), which joined eight other groups to file an amici curiaebrief supporting a move to dismiss Resolute’s case.
The far-reaching lawsuit has seized attention across the environmental advocacy and legal communities. Arguments are to be heard in court next week.
The Resolute lawsuit was unprecedented. Then several months ago, former employees of Greenpeace and the environmental advocacy group 350.org were similarly visited by investigators. In August, the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline filed a separate RICO suit against Greenpeace and two smaller groups, Banktrack and Earth First!. The complaint echoes Resolute’s claims: a broad conspiracy against a major company, advocacy groups running an illegal “enterprise” to further their own interests while damaging the company, Energy Transfer Partners. It even alleges support for eco-terrorism, a violation of the Patriot Act, and drug trafficking.
It was filed by the same lawyer who represents Resolute—Michael J. Bowe, of the firm Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP, who is also a member of President Donald Trump’s personal legal team.
“The Energy Transfer Partners lawsuit against Greenpeace is perhaps the most aggressive SLAPP-type suit that I’ve ever seen,” said Michael Gerrard, faculty director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, using the acronym for a lawsuit that aims to silence political advocacy. “The paper practically bursts into flames in your hands.”