The biggest coal user in Italy is trying to silence Greenpeace Italy for telling Italians the company’s coal plant emissions kill 366 people a year — about one person every day.

This kind of attack isn’t new. Big, rich companies often try to use the courts to stop groups such as Greenpeace from revealing the health and environmental impacts of their activities.

In this case, power giant Enel has filed a lawsuit against Greenpeace Italy. It wants the court to order Greenpeace Italy to black out its website showing the impacts of its emissions.

Those impacts are huge.

An independent analysis of data determined that the air pollution from Enel’s Italian coal plants kills about 366 people a year.  Including the company’s entire European fleet brings the number of deaths to more than 1,000.

Enel is Italy’s largest carbon dioxide polluter and the fourth largest in Europe.  The company had emissions in Italy of 36.8 million tonnes (mt) of CO2 in 2011 and had total emissions in Italy and Europe of 78 mt CO2, up from 68 mt a year earlier.

Enel Italy's largest carbon dioxide polluter

Greenpeace Italy has estimated that the damages from its coal-fired emissions in Italy alone are 2 billion euros a year.

The company has presented no factual arguments whatsoever to dispute these claims. Instead, it is trying to silence Greenpeace's science-based criticism by setting loose a team of corporate lawyers.

The calculations Greenpeace Italy has used for its campaign are based on data and methodology from the European Environment Agency, the top EU official on environment. The study looked at air pollution from all industrial facilities in Europe, including Enel’s plants.

Greenpeace Italy commissioned Dutch independent research institute SOMO to adapt the methodology of the EU agency to the thermal power plants of Enel to determine the number of deaths caused by its emissions.

The findings didn’t please Enel.

In addition to asking the court to black out the website showing the impacts of its dirty emissions, Enel wants to bring some financial pain to Greenpeace Italy. It wants the court to impose fines of 10 thousand euros for each day of non-compliance to any provision of a possible injunction.

So far it hasn’t gotten an injunction. The first day in court on this lawsuit was Tuesday, June 26, 2012. The court reserved its decision.

Greenpeace Italy’s position is that its statements are not defamation because they are based on facts that were properly checked. ENEL was even given the opportunity to check the accuracy of these calculations. And so far the company has not disputed the basic accuracy.

Greenpeace Italy’s freedom of expression should be protected and the website should remain online. Greenpeace International supports this speaking out against major polluters.

This isn’t the first time that Enel has tried to use a big hammer to silence Greenpeace Italy. Several years ago, Enel threatened to sue Greenpeace Italy and Greenpeace International for  1.6 million euros in compensation for following peaceful protests at the company’s dirty energy facilities. Demanding huge sums is another way big companies try to frighten off critics.

This new request for daily fines, a website blackout, an injunction – all of this makes clear that Enel wants to stop Greenpeace Italy from speaking out, from exposing its dirty secrets. What big company wants its death statistics out there for all to see?

The truth is coal emissions kill people, whether Enel likes the message or not.