By Valerie Volcovici
(Reuters) - Energy Transfer Partners LP on Tuesday sued Greenpeace and other environmental groups, accusing them of launching an "eco-terrorism" campaign aimed at blocking the Dakota Access Pipeline, the center of months of opposition by Native American and green groups.
The pipeline operator said Greenpeace, Earth First and other organizations engaged in "acts of terrorism" to solicit donations and interfere with its pipeline construction activities, damaging its "critical business and financial relationships."
ETP said the groups' actions and negative publicity against it, its sister company Energy Transfer Equity LP and other firms caused billions of dollars in damages.
Greenpeace USA General Counsel Tom Wetterer said the company's lawsuit, filed in U.S. district court in Bismarck, North Dakota, "abuse(d) the legal system to silence legitimate advocacy work."
In May the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline began interstate crude oil delivery, but a federal appeals court judge in June ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reconsider its environmental review of the line, opening up the possibility that the line could be shut at a later date.
In its 231-page filing, Energy Transfer accused Greenpeace and groups like Bank Track and the Bold Alliance of "manufacturing a media spectacle" around Dakota Access pipeline opposition.
The company said environmentalists approached the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, the public face of the months-long fight against the pipeline, and used it to wage a battle against the project.
ETP said environmental groups "cynically planted radical, violent eco-terrorists on the ground amongst the protesters, and directly funded their operations and publicly urged their supporters to do the same."
Energy Transfer is being represented by the Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman law firm, whose founding partner Marc Kasowitz is President Donald Trump's lawyer.
Greenpeace said this is the second time Kasowitz's firm has gone after the group. Last year it represented Resolute Forest Products in a defamation lawsuit brought by the global logging company against Greenpeace. Wetterer said that "complaint repackages spurious allegations and legal claims."
The case is Energy Transfer Equity LP v. Greenpeace International, 17-cv-173, U.S. District Court, District of North Dakota (Bismark).
(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici in Washington and Ahmed Farhatha in Bengaluru; editing by Lisa Shumaker and Steve Orlofsky)