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How We Work

Mt. Shuksan

How We Work

Earthjustice's lawyers handle hundreds of cases every year, many of which are argued at the Court of Appeals, including the 9th Circuit, whose San Francisco courthouse is pictured. Learn more about how we work below.

How It Started

The era of modern environmental law began in the mid-1960s when a federal appeals court in New York ruled that citizens with no financial stake in the outcome of a power plant siting decision could nevertheless participate in the process and were entitled to bring their concerns before a court of law. That right, known as "standing to sue," was affirmed by the Supreme Court in 1972 in a case brought by a group of attorneys that would eventually form the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, now known as Earthjustice.

Read the 2014 Legal Docket
Learn more in our history

Laws We Use

Starting at the end of 1969, a veritable deluge of new environmental statutes was passed and signed into law. By 1973, Congress had created the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Endangered Species Act. The United States now has some of the strongest and most comprehensive environmental regulations in the world. Click the pictures below to learn more about each law.


The Endangered Species Act

The Endangered Species Act, passed in 1973, is arguably the strongest of our nation's environmental laws, and the most controversial. Click the picture to learn more about this law. [+]

The Courts

There are three tiers in the federal court system. Most cases start at the district level. If the ruling is challenged, the case moves to the court of appeals. This is where the vast majority of Earthjustice cases are resolved.

In rare instances, cases may be further appealed and accepted by the U.S. Supreme Court, but the high court is extremely selective in choosing cases to hear.


Click the pictures below to learn more about each law.

Clean Air Act

Protecting air quality and public health [+]

Clean Water Act

Protecting drinking water and recreation in U.S. waters [+]

Natl. Forest Management Act

Ensuring sound management of U.S. forests [+]

Natl. Environmental Policy Act

Requiring federal agencies to assess their impact [+]

Strategic Campaigns

Our Communications department in San Francisco initiates strategic media campaigns to address the most urgent threats to our environment.
Learn more about our campaigns

The Role Of Policy

Our lawyers' ability to hold polluters in check requires strong laws, and our Policy & Legislation team helps keep them that way.
Meet our Policy & Legislation team

Working Internationally

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

How We Choose Our Cases

HIGH STAKES: If there is much to be lost, or gained, as there are with nationwide standards for clean air, Earthjustice will likely get involved.

LANDMARK IMPACT: Will the potential ruling affect other cases or environmental policy across the country? We believe that successful precedent-setting cases can lead to broad-based positive change.

STRONG PARTNERSHIPS: Earthjustice looks for cases that help build strong, lasting partnerships with national and local groups. Our effectiveness comes from our unique ability to leverage our regional offices and reach out to valuable allies on the ground. These strong regional partnerships greatly contribute to our success in court.