The Sierra Club’s strategy of incessant lawsuits to advance its agenda is not only dangerous from a flawed policy agenda, it’s can also be dangerous to their bank account and reputation. It risks backlash from an American public increasingly fed up with dubious lawsuits that enrich trial lawyers and clog up the legal system. This negative public sentiment may be fueled by a federal judge’s ruling that the Club’s recent lawsuit against Texas power generator Luminant was “frivolous” and warranted the repayment of Luminant’s $6.4 million in legal fees. (The Club had been seeking $330 million in damages and $140 million in pollution control upgrades for – in its view – Luminant’s violation of the Clean Air Act.)
In its rush to sue, the Sierra Club ignored environmental reports issued by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) that concluded Luminant committed no Clean Air Act violations. This oversight proved costly. In his 17 page order, U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith explained:
Even with this knowledge at its disposal, plaintiff admitted that they failed to analyze or investigate the TCEQ investigation reports and filed suit. Consequently, after immense discovery, expense and use of judicial resources, this court found no evidence supporting any deficiency in the TCEQ’s investigation reports.
Potentially worried about backlash from donors who are on the hook for this $6.4 million bill, Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign director Al Armendariz responded that the Club is “confident the court of appeals will reverse this decision.” (Armendariz is a former EPA regional administrator who resigned in disgrace after saying he was going “to crucify” the energy industry.)
The penalty – which represents around double the amount that Sierra Club receives in bequests each year – doesn’t appear to have given Sierra Club pause in its assault of American businesses. The Club recently sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over water intake regulations for power plants and other industrial facilities. As the public learns more about Sierra Club’s litigious nature, the threat of public backlash remains a real concern.