Legal Hero: Brandt Mannchen
Brandt Mannchen has been an active and dedicated Sierra Club volunteer for over thirty years. Brandt's distinguished history with the Club is marked both by his high level of commitment as well as an impressive breadth of involvement in Club committees and chapter activities. During his tenure, Brandt has served as the Chair, Vice Chair, and Secretary of Houston group, he has been on the Executive Committee for both the Houston and Lone Star Chapters, and he has served on committees dealing with a range of issues, from wildlife and endangered species to offshore drilling. Brandt is proud to have worked to contest the first Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency off the Texas coast. In recent years, Brandt has been primarily involved in forestry issues, serving as the Forestry Chair for the Houston Group and the Big Thicket Chair for the Lone Star Chapter.
Big Thicket National Preserve is a biologically diverse region that brings together in one geographical location the eastern hardwood forests, the Gulf coastal plains, and the Midwest prairies. Brandt's interest in protecting the Big Thicket National Preserve dates even farther back than his Sierra Club membership. In 1971, while attending Sam Houston State University and studying for his Bachelor's degree in Environmental Science, Brandt wrote an article in an alternative student newspaper about the importance of protecting and preserving this scenic Texas resource. Brandt's commitment to Big Thicket has remained strong to this day, and he played an integral role in recently gaining the preserve federal protection from oil and gas drilling. Close to twenty oil wells have been constructed outside of Big Thickets borders; these wells have caused disturbances to both the ecology and serenity of the region. In 2004, the Sierra Club took legal action to demand that the Department of Interior take a hard look at the surface impacts that slant drilling and the associated equipment has on the areas just outside of park boundaries. Brandt's avid use of the park as well as his unrelenting and remarkable practice of submitting comments for every oil and gas proposal that he hears about ensured that the Sierra Club had the standing it needed to bring the case. In addition, Brandt was able to secure a series of National Park Service (NPS) documents that served as evidence and provided an impetus to bring the case in the first place. Brandt emphasized that the actions found in these documents showed that NPS employees "truly lived up to their duty as public servants."
On October 25, 2006, federal Judge John D. Bates vindicated the Club's position, stating in his decision that the Department of Interior cannot ignore the impacts that oil and gas operations have on the environmentally sensitive regions just outside some of our most scenic and majestic national parks. This verdict was the direct result of years of tireless effort on Brandt's part. The time that Brandt spent in Big Thicket was a major motivating factor for him, "Hiking through Big Thicket you're surrounded by peace and quiet. While you're there the only sounds you hear are birds and the wind in the trees . . .then all of a sudden the sounds of drilling break through and shatter the feeling you had at the time". Brandt's philosophy in regard to not only Big Thicket, but all the natural places and species he has worked to protect shows a high level of conviction and drive, "What alternatives do I have? What choice do I have but to fight? If you see something that you know is wrong, you've got to do something about it . . .it's as simple as that." Brandt's passion for his conservation work makes him a powerful asset to the Club, and a person that the law program feels privileged to work with.