BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Environmental groups being sued by the developer of the Dakota Access pipeline have asked a federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit.
Netherlands and U.S.-based Greenpeace and Netherlands-based BankTrack argue in court documents that their opposition to the $3.8 billion project to move North Dakota oil to Illinois is protected free speech, not an illegal effort to undermine the developer.
Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners filed a lawsuit in August against Greenpeace, BankTrack and Earth First, alleging they disseminated false and misleading information about the Dakota Access project, interfered with its construction and damaged the company's reputation and finances through illegal acts.
The lawsuit filed in federal court in North Dakota cites "a pattern of criminal activity and a campaign of misinformation for purposes of increasing donations and advancing their political or business agendas," and seeks damages that could approach $1 billion.
In court documents filed Tuesday, attorneys for Greenpeace and BankTrack argue that the lawsuit is without merit and an attack on free speech.
"Greenpeace's political advocacy criticizing Energy Transfer's practices is within the core of First Amendment protection," the attorneys wrote.
In the lawsuit.
Energy Transfer has made numerous accusations against what it describes as a vast network of co-conspiring groups and people that committed crimes to further their agendas.
Greenpeace attorneys argue in their response that many of the lawsuit's examples of allegedly defamatory statements were made by groups not being sued, and that Greenpeace only released factual statements aimed at "swaying public opinion."
"Energy Transfer is quite literally trying to transform First Amendment-guaranteed associational rights into criminal affiliations," Greenpeace said.
The 1,200-mile pipeline began operating June 1, after months of delays caused by legal wrangling and on-the-ground protests.
Police made 761 arrests in North Dakota between August 2016 and February 2017.
Four American Indian tribes in the Dakotas are continuing to fight the project in federal court, hoping a federal judge in Washington, D.C., will shut down the line.