On 7 October, Greenpeace filed a lawsuit in Superior Court for the District of Columbia against Dow Chemical, Sasol North America (owned by the South African State Oil Company), two public relations firms – Dezenhall Resources and Ketchum – and four individuals. The suit is the result of the companies’ efforts to stop Greenpeace from exposing the effects of their pollution.
The charges in the complaint were triggered by corporate espionage directed at Greenpeace and our grassroots allies by the individuals – they styled themselves as “security professionals” – working on behalf of the chemical companies. The public relations firms were the go-betweens and in all likelihood, the chemical companies may have thought the PR firms would provide insulation and deniability.
This sounds like it fits in well with the news of the day. Wall Street is occupied by citizens outraged over the perversion of our economy and body politic by greedy corporations, the Murdoch media empire is being investigated on at least two continents for its black-bag operations and the Chamber of Commerce was recently caught hiring law firms and more “security professionals” to go after its critics.
This, however, is much older. The facts upon which Greenpeace’s case is built – the kind of dirty laundry rarely seen outside a Wikileaks document dump – date to the late 1990s. Greenpeace was then fighting to protect the lives and health of low-income communities in Louisiana where Dow and Sasol (under the name CONDEA Vista) produce chlorine-based plastics and use the local air and water as convenient dumps for their cancer and birth defect-inducing wastes. How long have the corporations been playing hardball? A long, long time.
So this is a pointy-headed science debate about endocrine disruption and parts per million? On one level, yes. On another level, this case goes to the heart of American democracy in the 21st century. In this dispute, Greenpeace was allied with the working-class communities along the chemical companies’ fence lines in Louisiana. We said the companies polluted the air and water. The multi-billion dollar multinational companies, with legions of lawyers and lobbyists, said they did not. It was a classic civic dispute.
Even though the corporations had the overwhelming advantages of money and influence, they decided the deck was still not stacked enough in their favor, so they hired spooks – ex-cops, Secret Service, and CIA agents – to steal internal documents from Greenpeace and the local community activists. (Lawsuits on this issue have been filed in the Louisiana state courts as well.)
I should note that Greenpeace initially filed this suit in federal court last November but last month a judge ruled – without deciding the facts of the case – that it did not fall within federal jurisdiction, so we have refiled the charges in DC court.
Greenpeace was not the only national environmental group targeted, but we seem to have been an object of special fixation for the corporations. A backhanded compliment, I suppose.
What we hope to gain from this is what Greenpeace always hopes for its activism – to expose the harm done to people and the planet by those who cannot see past their own bottom line. If, by taking these corporations and their PR and security minions to court, we can deter other polluters from violating the civil rights of citizens, then the scales of America’s civil discourse will have been brought that much closer to the balance we all deserve.
You can see the complaint and learn more about the lawsuit at spygate.org.