Today’s Permit Challenges Are More About Shaping Energy Policy Than Anything Else
A casual observer might read about a challenge to a proposed natural gas pipeline or coal mine permit and assume that the challenge was designed to make sure that the project will comply with environmental laws.
But that assumption would probably be wrong.
Today’s permit challenges are usually more about shaping energy policy than anything else. Environmental statutes provide powerful tools for Sierra Club lawyers to challenge energy projects. But don’t assume that these suits – which often cite some supposed environmental concern – are ultimately about ensuring compliance. Instead, the actual goal is often promoting certain energy sources – such as renewables – over others.
Need proof? Check out the Sierra Club’s website. Their campaigns are almost entirely focused on shaping America’s fuel choices. Their “Ready for 100” campaign promotes the shift to “100% clean, renewable energy.” And they have very-well funded campaigns to oppose other energy sources, including a “Beyond Coal” campaign, a “Beyond Oil” campaign and a “Beyond Natural Gas” campaign:
Even the noble-sounding “Our Wild America” campaign appears, upon closer examination, to focus more on keeping “fossil fuels in the ground” than protecting and enjoying our great outdoors.
Currently, the Sierra Club is particularly concerned with natural gas pipelines, understanding that once pipeline infrastructure is built to move inexpensive natural gas out of the Marcellus and Utica shale regions to other parts of the country, the Sierra Club’s case for renewables is harder to make. Their website is, if nothing else, clear about the goal:
So, one can assume that every natural gas pipeline project will be scrutinized by well-funded Sierra Club lawyers who hope to find some alleged defect that will form the basis of a lawsuit and cause delays in the project.
Now you may ask: is there anything wrong with such tactics? The short answer is no. These tactics may be disingenuous, but they are not illegal. If the Sierra Club and similar groups want to use environmental law to shape energy policy, that is their right, as long as their claims about environmental compliance are not made in bad faith.
But, that doesn’t mean that citizens shouldn’t be better informed. The media, in particular, could do a better job explaining the motivations behind many permit challenges filed by the Sierra Club and similar groups. Their motivations aren’t a secret. You can see that from their websites.
This article was authored by M. Shane Harvey, Jackson Kelly PLLC.