Liquid waste company sues environmentalists for helping Rio Hondo citizens protest proposed facility
RIO HONDO, TX — Texas Campaign for the Environment (TCE) filed a response this week to a lawsuit levelled against them by a liquid waste hauler and processor. TCE helped organize community meetings and raised public interest concerning the impact of the waste processing on a sensitive waterway in Rio Hondo, Texas in 2012-2013. Residents addressed their concerns to the city and the state environmental agency (TCEQ).
After TCEQ refused to cancel a public meeting, despite the city council’s request to do so, in February 2013, the city decided to not continue with the contract that would have allowed Partners Dewatering Inc. (PDI)—a San Antonio based firm—to process grit and grease trap wastes at the Rio Hondo wastewater treatment plant. A similar facility run by PDI in La Coste, Texas had a history of pollution problems, including spills, fish kills and odors. PDI claims that TCE’s organizing illegally interfered with their contract with the City of Rio Hondo and defamed them.
“We will never apologize for giving Texans a voice in protecting their water, land and air, and we will never be afraid to fight polluters when they threaten these precious resources,” Robin Schneider, Executive Director of Texas Campaign for the Environment said. “We are confident that we will prevail in this lawsuit because we were exercising our basic constitutional rights. PDI ran a facility in La Coste that killed fish, stunk up a neighborhood and polluted the water. They wanted to set up shop in Rio Hondo and we informed the public and helped residents petition their elected officials. The people spoke and their government responded. It was a proud moment and no lawsuit will take that away from our friends in the Valley who won this fight.”
PDI’s lawsuit claims that TCE committed “tortious interference” with the contract between the company and the City of Rio Hondo, alleging that the environmental group interfered with the agreement in a reckless or malicious way. TCE argues, however, that the First Amendment protects its right to educate the public, assist others to organize and petition the government. The suit also claims that TCE defamed PDI by knowingly making untrue statements about the firm. TCE expects to conclusively demonstrate that it never knowingly made any untrue statement about PDI.
“Every sore loser says that the other side cheated, but we were fair, honest and careful about how we communicated this issue to our supporters. Democracy worked this time, and PDI needs to move on,” Andrew Dobbs, Program Director for TCE and one of the main organizers in Rio Hondo said.