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EXCLUSIVE: Environmental lawyer tasked with suing Tesla speaks: ‘Win Some, Lose Some’

(Credit: Jörg Steinbach)

Since Tesla launched the construction of Giga Berlin, the company’s first European vehicle assembly plant in the State of Brandenburg, nearly every element of the project has been met with pushback and backlash from local citizens and other groups. The necessary removal of trees, the displacement of some species on the once forestry-infested property, groundwater, and a coolant tank have all been subjects of complaints brought to the attention of the California-based automaker.

Thousands of miles and a continent away from its home in Northern California, Tesla has sparred with local environmental groups NABU and the Green League for nearly a year, with lawyer Thorsten Deppner representing the Earth-friendly entities. In an exclusive interview with Teslarati, Deppner told us about his intentions for the lawsuit and what is next to come in a long line of issues that the automaker continues to sift through as production of sustainable passenger vehicles nears at the German plant.

Deppner, casually dressed and inviting me into a Zoom-like chatroom to talk about Tesla, was friendly. Knowing my position as a journalist covering the EV space and Tesla, specifically, Deppner was openly willing to talk about the points of the case that were recently put to rest, which has to do with the coolant tank that sits on the property of Giga Berlin. “Tesla had not filed certain documentation with respect to emergency procedures concerning the storage of a particular coolant. That coolant, if ignited, can produce Hydrogen Fluoride,” Deppner told me. “That was our main concern of this particular case.”

Credit: Twitter | @gigfactory_4

The tank was also the subject of a July 2021 investigation by the State Environment Agency, which was originally reported by Tagesspiegel. According to the report, the tank is reportedly holding the chemical tetrafluoropropene, and Tesla does not have permission to have this on the site. The coolant was not, and still is not present in the tank on site. However, Deppner’s cases were already set in motion when the State Agency decided to launch its investigation.

While somewhat risky for the company applying for the permit, this process is also risky for the citizens. Deppner’s most recent issue dealt with coolant tanks on Giga Berlin’s property, following the lawsuit with sand lizards that he won in December, as he proved Tesla broke German Endangered Species Law. A risk for the people in Deppner’s opinion, Tesla did not have the correct documentation to have the coolant tank on site. Safety regulations were not met, which ultimately could have become a risk to the people, especially if the highly toxic contents of the tank were released.

Many of those who have followed Tesla’s process in Berlin as things continue to progress know that preliminary permits were being issued left and right, giving Tesla permission to erect, construct, and perform nearly any task that it needed concrete authorization to perform. Deppner explained that German environmental law allows for those preliminary permits only if an application is more likely to be ultimately approved than not. Then, the company that filed the application will have the opportunity to begin building what was outlined in the documents, provided that the company is guaranteeing to restore the site to its original state if the application should be denied.

This tank was the subject of the most recent NABU and Green League lawsuit, which the groups and Deppner, their representing attorney, dropped. Deppner and the groups lost the injunction on this case, but it is still being monitored.

Deppner told me throughout the conversation on several occasions that the goal was never to have Tesla Giga Berlin shut down; the complaints and lawsuits were more meant to be “guidance.” The goal was to have Tesla adhere to German environmental law throughout the entire process of building Giga Berlin, a misconception that many people do not realize. “We did not want to have this project shut down; we just want Tesla to follow environmental law,” Deppner added.

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This is not to say that these groups don’t exist, the ones who would like nothing more than to shut down Tesla’s German operation and halt the spread of sustainable transportation, but Deppner said he was unwilling to represent those groups, as their funding may have been provided by untrustworthy sources. “I wouldn’t represent people or groups like that, not in the slightest,” Deppner said.

The next steps for Deppner are to continue monitoring the Tesla situation until things are ultimately filed, approved, and completed in Brandenburg. As for the attorney, he likely won’t be driving a Tesla anytime soon, but that is not to say that he doesn’t appreciate what the company is doing. He said that the mission of transitioning the world to sustainable energy and transportation is important, and EVs are undoubtedly a step in the right direction. As for the case, Deppner said, “You win some, you lose some.”

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EXCLUSIVE: Environmental lawyer tasked with suing Tesla speaks: ‘Win Some, Lose Some’
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