Partner profile: The Sierra Club

This is the first in a series of blog posts highlighting some of the important partnerships enjoyed by Appalachian Mountain Advocates.

Aaron Isherwood, Managing Attorney for the Sierra Club, calls the partnership between Appalachian Mountain Advocates and the Sierra Club “a match made in heaven.”

Appalachian Mountain Advocates’ Joe Lovett and Public Justice’s Jim Hecker bring litigation expertise won through long experience. Isherwood and the Sierra Club bring financial resources, lobbying expertise and grassroots connections throughout the region.

The partnership began in 2007. The Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign was in its earliest stages, and it was clear that the Sierra Club would be focusing intently on coal issues in the coming years. Isherwood had heard about the devastating impact of mountaintop removal and felt that should be among the Club’s priorities in the new campaign, supplementing the previous work on mountaintop removal done at the local chapter level and elsewhere within the organization.

Isherwood remembered an amazing injunction a law school mentor had always talked about that had been won by a young attorney in a mountaintop removal case in the late 1990s. It turned out to be the Bragg case, which had?launched Lovett’s career. “I knew I needed to get hold of this guy to see if he’d work with us,” Isherwood said.

It’s been a tremendous partnership ever since.

“Joe and Jim were absolute rock star litigators who really knew what they were doing,” Isherwood said. “It was clear to me that Joe was the guy working on this issue at a time I really knew nothing.”

Isherwood didn’t want to duplicate efforts. He didn’t want to litigate cases himself but help Appalachian Mountain Advocates ? then the Appalachian Center for the Economy & the Environment ? do more. He suggested teaming up and working to expand mountaintop removal mining litigation into Virginia and Kentucky and ramp up existing efforts in West Virginia. He wanted to focus Sierra Club’s resources ? financial and its substantial organizing capacity in the region ? more intently on the issue.

It has been a very productive partnership.

The Sierra Club has been a client in numerous cases, provided valuable legal assistance, media strategy, helped with polling and brought incredible resources to bear.

“The Sierra Club helped us hire some of the best experts in the world,” Lovett said. The Sierra Club has also supported a law fellow and contributed in many other ways. “They have increased our capacity tremendously,” Lovett said.

Ed Hopkins, director of Sierra Club’s Environmental Quality Program, has helped Appalachian Mountain Advocates better navigate the political scene in Washington, D.C., and Sierra Club’s local chapters have also been valuable partners.

Both Lovett and Isherwood discussed the need to bring local groups across the region together to work more closely and more effectively as a coalition.

“I’ve tried to bridge the gap between what’s happening on the ground and what’s happening in the courtroom,” Isherwood said. “Sierra Club has worked to help local residents understand the litigation strategies and the way those can help them.”

Sierra Club has helped “tie the litigation strategy to an overall, well-integrated campaign strategy that includes grassroots organizing,” Isherwood said. “It’s been hugely complementary to the work of Appalachian Mountain Advocates.”

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