Environmentalism Isn’t About the Environment

So, here’s a NYTimes story [h/t Environmental Economics] about three separate groups filing environmental lawsuits blocking a solar thermal project in California. The three groups filing the lawsuits are: The Sierra Club, the First-American Quechan tribe and “a labor group.”

Each group gives a different rationale for blocking the project and I think it reasonable to ask what each group’s real agenda is. (But let’s remember this is the NYTimes reporting here, who are not exactly known for their competence.)

The Sierra Club’s rationale is given as:

“The task at hand is to bring clean energy online, which includes large-scale renewables,” said Bill Corcoran, the western regional director for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in Los Angeles. “But as we looked at all of the fast-track projects, Calico was far and away the most harmfully located project.”[emp added]

Okay, firstly, that statement seems to imply that most or all of the alternative-energy projects are “harmfully located” and this one is just the worst of the lot. Secondly, the statement doesn’t say that the harm is actually of an unacceptable level. Does the project really threaten the environment to any great extent? Does this lawsuit really give Sierra Club donors the most environmental bang for their donated bucks? The statement really leaves the impression that the Sierra Club is more interested in finding an excuse to file a lawsuit, any lawsuit, than they are in protecting the environment. Is the Sierra Club more interested in brushing up its radical environmental creds or drumming up donation-generating publicity than they are in targeting the worst environmental damage?

The Quechan rationale is given as:

The tribe says the Interior Department did not adequately consider the impact of the project on its ancestral lands and on wildlife that figure in the tribe’s creation story.

Since when do religious creation stories figure into legal issues? I don’t think any other religions have such a privilege. More interestingly, most people living out in the sticks with no major economic resources would be glad for a project that brings jobs to their community. Why the Quechan resistance? Could it be that all too often lawsuits by First Americans tend to disappear following a donation to the tribe or an agreement to hire members of the tribe?

The “union group” rationale is given as:

The same day, a union group sued the Interior Department in Federal District Court in Los Angeles, saying that the agency had not adequately evaluated if the Genesis project would divert water from the Colorado River.

Huh? Why does a “union group” care about water diversion? Don’t they have more union-y things to worry about, like wages, benefits and working conditions for their members? For that matter, does this “union group” even have a name? If it does, the NYTimes doesn’t bother to mention it. I wonder why?

Perhaps it is because a little googling reveals that the “union group” is the California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) which in turn is part of California’s State Building and Construction Trades Council.

CURE’s “mission statement” says the organization:

California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) is a coalition of unions whose members help solve the State’s energy problems by building, maintaining and operating conventional and renewable energy power plants.

Now why would a union whose members build, maintain and operate power plants file an environmental lawsuit to stop the building, maintenance and operation of a power plant? Seems a little contradictory.

Again, Google supplies the answers that the NYTimes cannot:

“The real issue would appear to be that the unions want to make sure that they are involved in the project,” one site, AllGov.com, said.

AllGov said CURE previously objected to a solar project proposed by Aursa, but the company would not pledge to hire only union workers.

But when BrightSource Energy agreed to hire union workers for a solar project, CURE lobbied for the project despite the project threatening desert tortoise habitat.


So, basically, we have three supposedly environmental lawsuits against an alternative energy project that probably have nothing to do with protecting the environment, and whose resolution will most likely  do nothing to promote the good of the environment but will instead involve jobs and revenue for the groups filing the lawsuits.

Environmental lawsuits have become a corrupt process that lets anyone in a state or region shake down the creators of large infrastructure projects for anything. Even businesses can use environmental lawsuits to interfere with competing projects. Filing an environmental lawsuit costs next to nothing compared to the enormous cost of halting a multi-million dollar project, and the plaintiffs pay the defendants nothing even if the court finds the suits have no merit. A half-dozen self-righteous wet-behind-the-ears lawyers can destroy the jobs of hundreds, waste millions of dollars in material resources and capital while preventing the creation of wealth-generating infrastructure. The entire legal framework is a recipe for economic corruption and environmental destruction.

Yet another case wherein the Left’s reflexive emotional hostility to economic creatives causes them to build a political and legal system more interested in punishing economic creatives than in mitigating the harm that notionally justifies their acting in the first place.

9 thoughts on “Environmentalism Isn’t About the Environment”

  1. When you see a non-profit organization saying or doing something that doesn’t seem to make sense, it’s probably about fund-raising.

    Tax law professors teach, “When you see a businessman doing something that doesn’t make sense, it’s probably about taxes.”

  2. The groups end up chasing their tails but, as long as there is money in it, they will continue. I ran into this sort of thing when I was on the planning commission of my small city. The city was constantly dealing with lawsuits to increase “affordable housing.” The plaintiffs were always “public interest law firms.” Who do you think supported the “public interest law firms”? Why, building industry people and especially contractors who specialized in building affordable housing. It was a continuing cycle. The city would comply with some order from the state, then the “public interest law firms” would lobby the state legislature to increase the requirements.

    Everybody but the tax payers were doing well.

  3. In thinking about, it isn’t interesting how “follow the money” only seems to apply to business and not activist groups?

    I guess the people in activist live by photosynthesis so they don’t need money and aren’t tempted by it.

  4. Shannon,

    One environmental impact statement lawsuit that went over my desk a few years ago was financed by the National Rifle Association to punish a local junior college for closing its gun range (due to lead emissions endangering the local groundwater). The lawsuit was filed long after the old firing range was closed. My court threw it out as untimely because the junior college had already made and executed its decision, but the state appellate court reversed on the grounds that it was still possible for the “plaintiff” to establish an obscure point of law.

    I and some other attorneys around here refer to our local state court of appeal as the 9th Circuit’s farm club.

  5. “The great thing to be done now, is to do nothing, but wait for the good consequence of their divisions and mistakes”

    Advice given to William of Orange in 1685 by George Savile, 1st Marquess of Halifax (1633 -– 1695), author of “The Character of a Trimmer”.

    There is a certain amount of good news in that article. The law suits are trying to block projects that will produce very little energy, but require enormous Federal and Electric rate payer subsidies.

    A little bird was sitting in a tree when an ice storm came along, knocked it to the ground and covered it with a layer of ice. The bird was lying on the ground freezing to death when a horse came along and dumped a huge load of steaming hot manure on it. The manure’s warmth melted the ice and caused the bird to revive. Feeling refreshed, the bird began to chirp. A passing cat heard the singing bird, pounced on it, and ate it. The moral of the story is: not everybody who dumps on you is your enemy, not everybody who gets you out of manure is your friend, and if you’re sitting in a manure pile, don’t sing.

  6. Robert Schwartz,

    The law suits are trying to block projects that will produce very little energy, but require enormous Federal and Electric rate payer subsidies.

    I’d be lying if I had to say that I hadn’t considered using environmental lawsuits to close these projects down just to save our resources, time and political capital.

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