For climate action, participating in a lawsuit against a big polluter


Photographer Ansel Adams once said, “It is horrifying that we have to fight our own Government to save our environment.”

I would add that horrifying too often we have to fight our own local utilities for clean, water, and a livable planet to reduce the threat of climate change. However, if we truly care about these things, we have no choice. We do have to fight hard. There are days when it seems like one hell of a steep climb and an uphill battle. However, it is well worth it.

As author, environmental activist and founder of, Bill McKibben stated about acting on climate change:

“Very few people on Earth ever get to say: I’m doing, right now, the most important thing I could possibly be doing.’ If you join this fight, that’s what you will be saying.”

In December 2013, Missouri Sierra Club asked me to be a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the local utility for the pollution of their nearby coal plant. In 2013, I was very critical of the air pollution of the Meramec Coal Plant. I wrote an op-ed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, What keeps me up late at night, I gave a Toastmasters speech and accompanying blog with that same title. Even more I wrote a letters to the editor in the St. Louis South County neighborhood newspaper the Call and the Post-Dispatch asking for the retirement of that coal plant from the unhealthy air pollution.

Thus, when the Sierra Club invited me to be one of the plaintiffs their lawsuit alleging the local utility had violated the Clean Air Act with their coal plants, I agreed to join the suit. The court case was filed in March 2014. In the summer of 2015, I heard from the lawyers presenting me that I might be testifying in the fall.

Finally, at the beginning of January 2016. I sat down with a lawyer from the Sierra Club and a lawyer representing the utility for my sworn deposition. This was the closest I had been to testifying in a court case. All I can say was: Oh my! It felt like one of the most grueling experiences of my life to be cross examined for 2 and a half hours. I am hesitant to share much about my deposition.

However, it was fun to be able talk about in my sworn deposition about being the climate change comedian and chatting about this website! I enjoyed sharing about my involvement with Citizens’ Climate Lobby and explaining the details of their carbon fee and dividend proposal. It brought pride for me to talk about my involvement with the Climate Reality Project and my work as a seasonal park ranger at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon. It was great to be questioned about my involvement with the Sierra Club, especially the Beyond Coal Campaign.

The best part though was that the lawyer had read my blog to prepare to cross examine me. That was cool to know that someone was actually reading my blog. It got a laugh when I congratulated her for reading my blog. Looking back, since she was a expensive corporate attorney, I bet she got paid a lot to read my blog!

The mind numbing part was the cross examination of the lawsuit itself. Getting grilled on the fine questions of the lawsuit was very intense and very stressful on the brain. It was so hard, but I felt like I held my own that no amount of pollution is acceptable. The view of St. Louis from the office where the deposition was held was not bad either.

View of the St. Louis skyline on a gloomy overcast day from the office where I took my deposition.

That experience was so stressful and tense that I felt physically worn out and numb by the end. I ended up driving around St. Louis in silence trying to recover from that draining experience. I treated myself to a good pizza and went to a theatre to see the Star Wars: The Force Awakens just to try to get my mind and body not thinking about the experience that morning.

That whole weekend, I just wanted to stay in bed and sleep. I could not remember the last time I had as intense and stressful of a situation as being cross examined by a lawyer. I kept thinking that I would not have wanted my worst enemy to experience that.

Having said that, I would still do that experience in a heartbeat again, even though it is very physically and emotionally stressful. Nothing is important that fighting for clean air & water for our health and a livable planet from reducing the threat of climate change.

Henry David Thoreau famously remarked: “What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?”

Not just because it was a just and noble cause, it was very rewarding to be part on of court case because of the outcome. On July 21, 2016, St. Louis Post-Dispatch announced: Ameren, Sierra Club reach $2 million settlement over air quality. According to the short article:

“In U.S. District Court on Wednesday, Ameren Missouri reached a $2 million settlement with the Sierra Club over alleged air quality infractions at the utility’s Labadie, Meramec and Rush Island coal plants.

The dispute stemmed from complaints over the opacity of air surrounding the plants, which the Sierra Club argued violated the conditions of the Clean Air Act. In 2013, the organization said that it used an open records request to obtain reports from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources detailing nearly 9,700 infractions from 2008 to 2013, with every six minutes that opacity standards were not met being considered a separate violation.

The settlement indicates that the $2 million payment will be directed to an “environmentally beneficial project” of Ameren’s choosing, with the Sierra Club able to provide suggestions of worthwhile considerations. The agreement states that some of the money, however, must be directed to a bus electrification project for either schools or public transit.”

This was great to know that my actions as well as the other plaintiffs of taking this big polluter to court to reduce its air pollution can make a difference. This utility will have to pay $2 million for electric buses or public transportation. No, this does not solve climate change, but it is a step of progress. Thank you Sierra Club for asking me to be part of this lawsuit.