Sierra Club Hammered for Baseless Accusations
WACO, Texas (CN) - A "meritless" Clean Air Act suit against a Texas coal-fired power plant will cost Sierra Club more than $6.4 million in attorneys' fees, a federal judge ruled.
The environmental group sued Dallas-based Energy Future Holdings Corp. and subsidiary Luminant Generation Co. LLC in 2012 regarding the Big Brown Plant in Freestone County.
Sierra Club alleged the plant continues to violate particulate matter and opacity limits under the law.
After the particulate-matter-violation claims failed at summary judgment, the opacity-limit claims faced a February bench trial that also ended with a win for the defendants.
U.S. District Judge Walter Smith granted the defendants' subsequent motion for attorneys' fees on Friday, finding Sierra Club's lawsuit as "frivolous, unreasonable or groundless."
Though he found the request for $6.8 million for fees and costs reasonable, Smith did take exception to a request for $300,000 in conditional appellate fees.
"Here, defendants were successful against all of plaintiff's claims," the scathing 17-page order stated. "Plaintiff was unable to show a prima facie case of a PM violation, and the claims was dismissed at the summary judgment state of litigation. Plaintiff was aware that Big Brown's Title V permit exempted it from PM deviations during maintenance, startup, or shutdown activities prior to filing suit, which rendered the claim meritless. And at trial, plaintiff failed to prove any causation or injury to its lone standing witness or any other individual."
Smith scolded Sierra Club for not heeding Texas Commission on Environmental Quality investigation reports that stated there were no particulate matter or opacity violations of the CAA at Big Brown.
"Defendants informed plaintiff that these reports cannot be undermined," the order states. "But 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, the court found no evidence supporting any deficiency in the TCEQ's investigation reports."
At trial, the evidence showed that virtually the entire time the plant was operating normally, and that opacity was at 10 percent or less - "far below the 30 percent limit," Smith wrote.
Sierra Club also failed to persuade Smith that the defendants' hours billed and rates were unreasonable.
Sierra Club officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday evening.