An Impending Lawsuit Tsunami Under Pres. Trump

by Aaron Johnson, Vice President of Public Affairs on March 9, 2017 - 3:06pm

The political strategy for environmental activist groups during the Trump Administration is clear–more protests and more lawsuits.

It was therefore not surprising this week that environmental groups held multiple conference calls with reporters announcing intentions to sue the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for rolling back overreaching regulations from President Obama’s term.

According to the DC-based news site Morning Consult, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is likely to sue the EPA for withdrawing the Information Collection Request (ICR) on methane emissions from oil and natural gas operations. The Sierra Club pledged to sue if EPA rolls back mandates on electrical power generation in the Clean Power Plan. A third group, Safe Climate Campaign, will likely sue the Trump administration if it weakens emissions standards for cars and light trucks.

Then there’s the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), which is laying the foundations for lawsuits against oil and natural companies with its Freedom of Information Act requests for company data submitted to EPA for the ICR. The information is business sensitive and could be manipulated to paint a false picture by a group more interested in lawsuits than reasonable environmental oversight.

With all this legal maneuvering as a backdrop, there was a little-noticed lawsuit involving Greenpeace, which found itself as the defendants for a change. A case brought by the largest Canadian timber company, Resolute, reveals the way activist groups like Greenpeace and its cohort operate.

After enduring years of unsubstantiated claims about destroying the environment and having its suppliers targeted, Resolute fought back. In Canada, the company filed suit against Greenpeace for defamation. In the U.S., Resolute also filed suit under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), a statue usually reserved for busting organized crime, for coercing against Resolute’ s chain of supply companies. Greenpeace’s accusations completely contradicted the fact the company was actually improving forest health, and its coercion of suppliers was impacting the timber company’s bottom line. 

Interestingly, Greenpeace wilted. In public, the environmental group was fundraising off its campaign targeting Resolute. But in court filings the group said it did not “hew to strict literalism or scientific precision.” Instead, their claims against the timber company were “hyperbole,” “heated rhetoric,” and “non-verifiable statements of subjective opinion.” Greenpeace admitted its claims should not be taken “literally” and complained it shouldn’t be subject to any legal liability. 

In our industry, that’s referred to as #FrackingHypocrisy.

For environmental groups, the message to the public underlying their protests and legal actions is that natural resource industries destroy the environment. The goal of these activist groups is to de-legitimize industries that provide the food, fuel, and fiber we all depend upon.

In turn, these groups want the public to believe only they are the guardians of the environment. According to activists, there’s no conceivable way natural resource industries have any part in conservation. In the case of Resolute, ignore the fact that its employees planted more than a billion trees in Ontario’s boreal forest, that’s according to the company’s CEO.

The reaction of Greenpeace in this suit reveals the broader motivation of the environmental movement, they care about making money through fundraising and will create the narrative for the public that is most convenient to do so. Activist groups don’t bother with facts when they campaign against industries that rely on natural resources. And in the rare instance they’re taken to court over false accusations, groups like Greenpeace chalk it up to rhetorical flourish. It’s merely marketing and truth is irrelevant.

The bottom line is environmental activist groups won't stop filing lawsuits anytime soon. But it’s refreshing to see a company like Resolute push back and expose groups operating off of hyperbole and not in the public’s interest.

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