The National Environmental Policy and Law Center (NELC) is a litigation foundation which focuses on the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. The group typically targets processing and manufacturing plants such as AK Steel Corporation’s steel mill, Valero Port Arthur Oil Refinery, and Detroit Renewable Power’s energy-producing trash incinerator. The group uses the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act as a basis for its cases claiming these acts, “authorize private citizens and environmental groups to enforce the law when EPA and the state fail to take appropriate enforcement action.” 1 2 3
The group is often hired by the Sierra Club, a multi-million-dollar environmental regulation foundation which supports progressive environmental regulations such as an end to coal and oil power in favor of weather dependent sources such as wind turbines and solar panels. 4
The National Environmental Policy and Law Center was founded in 1990 by Ed Lloyd and Chuck Caldart to enforce anti-pollution laws. The group earned its tax-exempt status the following year. The group has brought more than 90 suits to various courts since 1990. In addition to environmental lawsuits, the organization engages in issue advocacy, both individually and along with larger environmental groups such as the Sierra Club. 5
Environment Michigan, Sierra Club v. AK Steel
In March 2021, the National Environmental Policy and Law Center (NELC) worked with Sierra Club, Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, and Environment Michigan to put together a lawsuit against AK Steel’s steel mill in Dearborn Michigan. NELC claimed the steel mill was not up to code and allowing too many pollutants into the air, negatively impacting air quality in local schools and neighborhoods. Once NELC and its partners threatened a lawsuit AK Steel worked with the EPA and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy to come to a deal. AK Steel agreed to update the air capture systems in the plant and distribute high quality air filters to over 1,000 homes surrounding the plant. 6
Environment Texas, Sierra Club v. Valero Port Arthur Refinery
In May 2019, the National Environmental Policy and Law Center (NELC) worked with Environment Texas, Sierra Club and Lone Star Legal Aid to send a Notice of Intent to Sue the Valero Energy Corporation’s Port Arthur oil refinery. NELC claimed the refinery was breaking the Valero’s Clean Air Act resulting in extra sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides into the neighborhoods surrounding the refinery. The group did not end up suing, however the Texas Attorney General and Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) did file a lawsuit. TCEQ requested the EPA deny the Refinery’s Title V permit. Title V permit is the EPA’s legally enforceable document which states a manufacturing plant has met the requirements set by the Clean Air Act. TCEQ claimed it had the authority to put specific measurements and restrictions on the refinery and in November 2021, the EPA said TCEQ did not have the authority without getting prior approval from the EPA. This resulted in the refinery being allowed to operate under EPA guidelines and all suits dropped. 7 8
Environment Michigan, Ecology Center v. Detroit Renewable Power
In January 2019, the National Environmental Policy and Law Center (NELC) along with Environment Michigan and Ecology Center sent a Notice of Intent to Sue Detroit Renewable Power’s downtown trash incinerator. Although the incinerator took in trash and produced energy for the city, the community surrounding the incinerator complained it was noisy, smelly, and had an overall negative impact on the community’s health. NELC put together a list of violations and sent it’s Notice of Intent to Sue. Detroit Renewable Power had been operating since 1991, safely disposing 18 million tons of solid waste, turning it into 9 billion kilowatt-hours of non-gas/oil-based electricity for the city. Despite being in business for over 20 years, Detroit Renewable Power did not want to fight the suit. Consequently, the suit combined with community backlash resulted in Detroit Renewable Power shutting down permanently in March 2019. 9 10
Environment Texas, Sierra Club v. ExxonMobil
The National Environmental Policy and Law Center (NELC) has previously won lawsuits against Shell and Chevron oil companies. In its effort to, “hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for poor air quality” the group targeted ExxonMobil’s refining complex near Houston. The lawsuit started in 2010 and went on until 2022. NELC, Environment Texas, and Sierra Club claimed that the ExxonMobil refinery near Houston emitted 10 million pounds of illegal air pollutants such as hydrogen chloride and sulfur dioxide. ExxonMobil claimed the spills came from upset incidents in which something malfunctioned or broke within the facility, causing unavoidable spills. In the initial trial, the judge ruled that ExxonMobil had spilled the pollutants, but ruled that it should not be penalized for the accidents. NELC appealed and the case went to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. In the Fifth Circuit it was ruled that ExxonMobil should be penalized for its violation of the Clean Air Act, resulting in a $19.95 million fine. ExxonMobil appealed that ruling, with the Fifth Circuit later ruling that the initial fine was excessive and reducing it to $14.25 million. ExxonMobil appealed a second time, but the courts determined the $14.25 million fine was acceptable, and closed the case in late 2021. 11 12
- “Clean Water Archives.” National Environmental Law Center. Accessed October 24, 2023. https://www.nelc.org/issues/clean-water/.
- “Cases Archive.” National Environmental Law Center. Accessed October 24, 2023. https://www.nelc.org/cases/.
- “Issues.” National Environmental Law Center, April 27, 2022. https://www.nelc.org/our-work/issues/.
- “Climate and Energy.” Sierra Club. Accessed October 24, 2023. https://www.sierraclub.org/climate-and-energy.
- “About Us.” National Environmental Law Center, May 26, 2022. https://www.nelc.org/about-us/.
- “Environment Michigan, Sierra Club v. AK Steel.” National Environmental Law Center, May 9, 2022. https://www.nelc.org/cases/environment-michigan-sierra-club-v-ak-steel/.
- “2021 Order Granting in Part and Denying in Part in a Petition For …” EPA.gov, 2021. https://www.epa.gov/system/files/documents/2021-12/premcor-port-arthur-order_11-30-21.pdf.
- “Basic Information about Operating Permits | US EPA.” EPA.gov. Accessed October 24, 2023. https://www.epa.gov/title-v-operating-permits/basic-information-about-operating-permits.
- “About.” Detroit Renewable Power, August 22, 2023. https://detroitrenewablepower.com/about/.
- “Environment Michigan, Ecology Center v. Detroit Renewable Power.” National Environmental Law Center, May 6, 2022. https://www.nelc.org/cases/environment-michigan-ecology-center-v-detroit-renewable-power/.
- Circuit Court Rules against ExxonMobil a Third Time, Upholds Record Clean Air Act Penalty.” Sierra Club, August 31, 2022. https://www.sierraclub.org/texas/blog/2022/08/circuit-court-rules-against-exxonmobil-third-time-upholds-record-clean-air-act.
- “Environment Texas, Sierra Club V. ExxonMobil.” National Environmental Law Center, May 24, 2022. https://www.nelc.org/cases/environment-texas-sierra-club-v-exxonmobil/.