LG&E V. THE SIERRA CLUB: HIDDEN SURVEILLANCE
The Louisville Gas & Electric Company (LG&E) could be in hot water. Environmental activists associated with the Sierra Club have brought charges against LG&E for allegedly dumping excessive amounts of toxic coal-ash into the Ohio River.
Members of the Sierra Club performed hidden surveillance of the activities by mounting a time-lapse camera to a tree in early 2013. Footage from this camera is being used as evidence for their claims (that LG&E is violating an EPA-granted permit).
However, the lawsuit is about more than just this singular case. The emissions permit for LG&E is very vague, stating that the company is permitted “occasional” discharge from its ash retention pool into the Ohio River.
According to Thomas Pearce, regional organizer for the Sierra Club in western Kentucky, the footage that Sierra Club took proves that the discharge was not occasional but constant. The Kentucky Division of Water has told local media that they do not believe this amount of discharge violates LG&E’s permit.
The problem here is the interpretation of the word “occasional”, and this is why Pearce and his associates are focusing on cases like this.
In February of this year, Duke Energy spilled 35 million gallons of coal-ash and dust into the Dan River in North Carolina. The Sierra Club is concerned with bringing this kind of case to light to show that the EPA needs to change its policies and make its wording much more explicit on these permits.
What does any of this have to do with our work? Well, without a year’s worth of time-lapse footage (taken at a rate of one picture every three seconds, according to Pearce), the Sierra Club would not have a case against LG&E. They would have nothing more than their word against a powerful utility company, and they would be very unlikely to win any court battles. As it is, it will be up to a judge’s discretion to determine whether the discharge shown in the footage counts as “occasional” or “constant”.
Imagine you have an employee that is stealing from you. You think you know who it is, but you don’t have proof. Firing them without proof can present issues for you, is ill-advised and opens the door to wrongful termination lawsuit. If, however, you can prove that they’re stealing either time, money or product from you, you can discharge them from their employment and decide whether to seek criminal prosecution.
Go about your surveillance legally
You’ll want to make sure, though, that you go about your surveillance legally. A firm like ours can help produce surveillance evidence that is court admissible, making all the difference in your case. The case for surveillance should be tempered by the direct approach of interview and interrogation, the subject of a previous post which can be found here. (That is an investigative technique was not possible in this scenario.) The Sierra Club’s investigative technique of covert surveillance may prove effective in proving their point. They may have be better served if they had a private investigator, who is considered as an expert in Federal, State or local courts, monitor the dumping on a periodic time frame in conjunction with the video. LG&E have the right to confront their opponent and it will be interesting to see what the decision and judge may rule in this regard.
We have done thousands of surveillance over these past decades. These span the gamut of marital, worker’s compensation, civil, criminal and theft throughout corporate America. Imagine you’re going through a messy divorce, or you know that your employer suspects you of doing something illegal. In this case, you need to be on your best behavior. You never know when someone has you under surveillance.
There is now a camera in the pocket of nearly every American. The minute you slip up, you will likely be caught on camera – the way LG&E allegedly was.
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