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How We Work

The statue 'Contemplation of Justice', outside of the U.S. Supreme Court building.

The statue 'Contemplation of Justice', outside of the U.S. Supreme Court building.

Jason Speros / Shutterstock

As expert legal strategists, we take on the big environmental fights—high-stakes cases where we can have an enduring impact—and stick with them until we win.

High Stakes: Will something significant be lost or gained?

Landmark Impact: Will a positive ruling set a powerful precedent for other cases and help set national policy across the country?

Strong Partnerships: Will the lawsuit help build strong, lasting partnerships with diverse local and/or national groups?

Unique Expertise: Can Earthjustice leverage its expertise and resources to add value to a case in a unique way?


We rely on five cornerstone laws to achieve big wins for the environment:


Earthjustice uses the Endangered Species Act to protect imperiled species and their habitats. Retired Earthjustice attorney Mike Sherwood pioneered this important work with precedent-setting efforts in the 1970s and 1980s to protect West Coast salmon and the palila bird. After decades of work, we’ve secured endangered species protection for more than a thousand plants and animals—and our fights continue in defense of wolves, grizzly bears, bowhead whales, salmon and a host of other creatures.


Earthjustice wields the Clean Air Act to protect everybody’s right to breathe. Our ongoing efforts to reduce harmful air pollutants such as mercury, soot, ozone and lead have yielded clean air standards that save tens of thousands of lives annually and reduce the health care costs associated with breathing dirty air by billions of dollars. Our current efforts include desperately needed reductions in ozone and the toxic pollution burden emitted by oil refineries and other heavy industry. Our litigation also helped establish the first-ever carbon pollution standards for power plants.


Earthjustice uses the Clean Water Act to ensure the nation’s waters are clean and safe for drinking, fishing, swimming, wildlife habitat and other uses. We helped establish the precedent that water is a public trust, not private property, and have achieved critical victories for waterways throughout the United States. Current cases include ongoing efforts to save Florida’s waterways from choking due to toxic slime, replenish Hawaiʻi stream flows, and keep fracking chemicals out of our water supplies.


Earthjustice harnesses National Forest Management Act to keep the nation’s wild forests from becoming lumber and pulp. We’ve scored huge victories that safeguard wildlife habitat, waterways and recreation in our national forests—including our decade-long defense of the Roadless Rule, which protects more than 50 million acres of beautiful national forest from development. We’re now working to preserve the Tongass—the gem of the national forest system—and ensure sound management of forestlands in the Sierra Nevada and throughout the country.


Earthjustice uses the National Environmental Policy Act, the law that requires environmental impact statements for projects permitted by the federal government, in a broad range of our work. It is a thread that runs through our efforts to protect public lands and waterways, stop genetically modified food, keep oil companies from ravaging the Arctic, and defend endangered species, among many other things.


The federal court system has three tiers—district court, court of appeals and the Supreme Court. Most of our national cases start in district court and are resolved in the court of appeals. In rare instances, our cases end up in the Supreme Court.

State court systems are more complicated and variable, though most follow a structure very similar to the federal system. We are engaged in a number of cases in state court systems around the country. See highlights from this year's legal docket.

… And Beyond

Winning the legal case is only part of the battle. Earthjustice's litigation work is strengthened by policy and communications teams—and by you.


To truly win for the environment, Earthjustice must be effective both in the courtroom and in the court of public opinion. Our communications teams in San Francisco, CA, and Washington, D.C., build public awareness and support for action on climate change, fracking, Arctic oil drilling, pesticides protections for agricultural workers, threats to our air, defending gray wolves, and more.


Holding polluters accountable requires strong environmental laws that stay strong. Every year, anti-environmental lawmakers seek to gut environmental protections and roll back our legal victories. Our policy and legislation team in Washington, D.C. works with members of Congress to keep environmental laws strong and ensure that our courtroom gains aren’t overturned.


Environmental protection is truly a global issue. Our international team, based in San Francisco, CA, focuses on human rights, climate change and international trade.


The generous support of hundreds of thousands of individuals like you allows us to take on the most important cases and stick with them for as long as it takes.