Looking every bit as comfortable in hiking gear as he might be in courtroom attire, attorney Ted Zukoski of the conservation group Earthjustice led a group of environmentalists deep into the Gunnison National Forest east of Paonia on a sunny late-June day.
Rocky Mountain Office
More national parks and monuments are concentrated in the Rocky Mountains and the desert southwest than in any other part of the United States. Among its majestic landscapes are snow-capped peaks and lush forests, fantastically sculpted red rock canyons, and the austere beauty of the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts.
The Rocky Mountain office, based in Denver, protects the region’s public lands and unique wildlife, challenges reckless oil and gas development and off-road vehicle use, and safeguards precious water resources. Learn about some of the office's current and past legal cases. The office's work includes:
SAFEGUARDING UTAH’S RED ROCK COUNTRY
The Rocky Mountain office has a longstanding commitment to defend southern Utah’s spectacular red rock country. Earthjustice won a landmark decision protecting these world-renowned landscapes in 2013, when the U.S. District Court for Utah struck down significant parts of a federal management plan that would have cleared the way for destructive off-road vehicle use across millions of acres.
Fighting Fossil Fuels
With more than 50,000 wells, Colorado is at the epicenter of a national battle over oil and gas drilling, most of which is accomplished through hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” Public concern is growing about the impacts of drilling on Colorado’s scenic wildlands and wildlife, as well as on global climate change, air and water quality, and public health. Earthjustice is battling attempts to open up two prized regions of the Colorado Plateau—Roan Plateau and Thompson Divide—to fracking for oil and gas. Because fracking has become the largest source of certain types of air pollution in Colorado, we are also working to protect Coloradans by forcing the oil and gas industry to control its emissions of smog-forming pollution, greenhouse gases, and other toxics.
- Roan Plateau: The Roan Plateau is home to some of North America’s rarest plants, tens of thousands of acres of wilderness-quality land, and crucial wildlife habitat. It also sits atop abundant oil and gas reserves, in the heart of one of western Colorado’s most heavily drilled regions. In 2008 BLM proposed to open the entire Roan Plateau to oil and gas drilling. Earthjustice and our clients filed suit and have been fighting ever since to protect this special place.
- Thompson Divide: Earthjustice is representing citizens who are working to prevent drilling and fracking in the Thompson Divide, a 220,000-acre forested wildland on the west slope of the Colorado Rockies. Much of the Thompson Divide is roadless, and it provides valuable habitat for a wide variety of wildlife. The area’s natural beauty also makes it a prized destination for recreation and tourism, which are vital to the economies of nearby communities. In the early 2000s, BLM auctioned off oil and gas leases for large parts of the Divide. The leases have never been developed and were set to expire in 2013, but BLM has extended them despite widespread local opposition from a bipartisan coalition of ranchers, hunters, anglers, conservationists, and businesses.
- Air Pollution: Earthjustice attorneys have represented a coalition of conservation groups before the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission that resulted in adoption of groundbreaking new rules to protect Coloradans from air pollution caused by the oil and gas industry. The new rules make Colorado the first state in the nation to regulate emissions of methane—a powerful greenhouse gas—from the oil and gas sector. Controlling methane from the fracking industry will be necessary for the United States to address climate change, and Colorado’s rules are expected to serve as a model for methane regulation at the national level and in other states. The new rules also reduce statewide emissions of certain smog-forming pollutants by about 25 percent.
Protecting Water Resources
Throughout the arid West, water resources are overtapped and under stress due to increasing demand, persistent drought, and booming oil and gas development. Earthjustice seeks to protect legendary rivers like the Colorado, Green, and San Pedro—which support a remarkable variety of native plant and animal species, as well as local economies and drinking water supplies—by maintaining healthy, sustainable flows. We aim to make the case for conservation and better water management planning rather than new infrastructure that causes further environmental degradation.
- Colorado River: One of the region’s (if not the nation’s) most iconic and important rivers, the Colorado is the foundation of natural systems—fish, wildlife, and entire ecosystems—across a wide swath of the West. It supports billions of dollars’ worth of recreation tourism, supplies water for nearly 40 million people, and irrigates 5 million acres of agricultural land. The most pervasive threats to the river and its tributaries are the many proposed dams, pipelines, and diversions for municipal and agricultural uses, and for energy development, including fracking. Earthjustice’s goal is to keep as much water as possible in the Colorado River to sustain rare species and river ecosystem health.
- The San Pedro River: Southern Arizona’s upper San Pedro River is the last free-flowing, undammed river in the desert southwest, a biological treasure that supports tremendous biodiversity. It is one of the most important migratory flyways in the United States, used by millions of songbirds each year.
Read about a few of the Rocky Mountain office's significant victories:
- Ninth Circuit Upholds EPA’s Clean Air Safeguards in Arizona Regional Haze Plan
- Court Upholds Grand Canyon Uranium Mining Ban
- Victory for Canyonlands
- Court Upholds the San Pedro River’s Right to Water
- Court Strikes Down Loophole Allowing Road Construction for Coal Mines in Colorado Backcountry
- Court Upholds Colorado’s Renewable Energy Standard
Each year, Earthjustice achieves more than fifty victories. See all recent victories from the Rockies and across Earthjustice.
Contact Rocky Mountain Office
633 17th St., Ste. 1600
Denver, CO 80202
Heidi McIntosh Managing Attorney
Karla Bizup Technical Support Analyst III
Yvonne Chi Associate Attorney
Robin Cooley Staff Attorney
Ava Farouche Litigation Assistant / Research Associate
Michael Freeman Staff Attorney
Eleanor Greer Litigation Assistant
Michael Hiatt Staff Attorney
Nan Houser Office Manager
Joel Minor Associate Attorney
Emily Splitek Associate Attorney
Ted Zukoski Staff Attorney