As predicted, the City of Richmond has been served with multiple lawsuits by Levin, Wolverine and Phillips 66 in both state and federal court challenging the City’s enactment of the ordinance prohibiting the storage and handling of coal.
I estimate that the cost to the City of Richmond of defending these lawsuits will be well into the seven figures.
When I voted for this ordinance, I believed that the Sierra Club, a national organization with a $100 million annual budget, would provide financial assistance to the City for defending the lawsuits. The Sierra Club was the principal drafter of the ordinance and the prime mover in advocating for its adoption.
But now that the lawsuits have started, the Sierra Club has bailed out. I have been informed by the Sierra Club’s attorney, Aaron Isherwood, that the Sierra Club plans to let the people of Richmond bear the entire financial burden of defending the lawsuits, something the City cannot afford without cutting other programs and services. Defending the coal lawsuits could result in fewer cops on the streets, longer response times, shortened library hours, and less street and park maintenance.
Deficits in the General Fund are already predicted starting in FY 2020-21, and defending the coal litigation will exacerbate it.
Figure 1 - Slide from 2020 State of the City
What can you do about it? Contact the Sierra Club and tell them to pay Richmond’s defense costs. The Sierra Club put Richmond in the position of fighting a climate change issue that should be paid for everyone who benefits, not just by already hard-pressed Richmond residents. The national Sierra Club has an annual budget of over $100 million, and local chapters and the Sierra Club Foundation have additional assets running into the hundreds of millions. They are using Richmond, and this needs to stop.
If you care about this, you can contact:
Phillip S. Berry Managing Attorney
2101 Webster St., Suite 1300
Oakland, CA 94612
Or email the Sierra Club executive director, Michael Brune at firstname.lastname@example.org.