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Our Cases

Earthjustice attorneys represent public-interest clients concerned about threats to the environment and hold accountable those who jeopardize the health of our planet. Thanks to the generosity of our many supporters, we provide expert legal support free of charge to groups large and small. Several of the most important legal battles for this year can be found at the 2014 Legal Docket.

Our complete legal docket includes about 300 active cases. Learn about some of our recent and historical cases:

Oil and Gas Lease Sale in the Chukchi Sea Alaska's Chukchi Sea, part of America's Arctic, provides vital habitat for polar bears, endangered bowhead whales, walrus, beluga whales, seals, fish and marine birds. In recent years, the wildlife and people of this poorly-understood but precious and vibrant region have experienced dramatic impacts from climate change, melting sea ice, declining wildlife populations and eroding shorelines.
Herring Trawlers: Threat to New England Fisheries

The population of groundfish off the coast of New England has been depleted for years. In 1994 nearly all fishing was banned from waters identified as spawning grounds and sanctuaries for cod, haddock, and other groundfish in order to give groundfish a chance to rebound from overfishing.

Herring mid-water trawlers were initially banned from the groundfish-closed areas in 1994. But in 1998 federal regulators decided to re-open these areas to trawlers, based on an assumption that the herring ships would catch little or no groundfish in their nets. As a result of this loophole in the regulations, it's estimated that these vessels have caught hundreds of thousands of pounds of mature and juvenile groundfish as bycatch.

Earthjustice has filed suit on behalf of local fishing groups to force federal regulators to close this loophole.

Challenge to Coalbed Methane Development in HD Mountains

A proposed natural gas drilling project near Durango, Colorado, will bulldoze roadless forest, worsen air pollution, threaten homes, and pollute wilderness areas and Mesa Verde National Park. The project porposes almost 200 new coalbed methane wells, including approximately 30 wells and 8 to 9 miles of new roads inside the currently undeveloped HD Mountains roadless areas. Despite this, the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management have approved the permits necessary for the project.

Earthjustice is challenging the project on behalf of conservation groups, homeowners, a rural county, and individuals whose livelihood would be negatively impacted by the drilling as proposed. 

 

Red Legged Frog: Critical Habitat

In the spring of 2006, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service bowed to industry and developer pressure by issuing a rule that greatly diminished the critical  habitat of the endangered California red legged frog. Critical habitat is defined to include those areas that are "essential to the conservation of the species."  Also, by law, critical habitat determinations must be made based upon the "best scientific and commercial data available."

Earthjustice discovered through Freedom of Information Act requests that political pressure by officials in the D.C. office, including former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior Julie MacDonald, rose to the level of improper influence compromising the scientific integrity of the final critical habitat rule. This pressure caused field office scientists to ignore important scientific documents, such as the frog's Recovery Plan, and to exclude from the final rule significant areas of habitat that the FWS had previously determined were "essential to the conservation" of the frog. The result is a final critical habitat rule that does not provide for the recovery of the frog, nor is it based on the best available science. 

In September 2008, the FWS published a proposed rule that would significantly increase the critical habitat for the red-legged frog, and Earthjustice settled the lawsuit. 

South Shale Ridge Oil and Gas Leasing

The South Shale Ridge wilderness is home to wildlife and rare plants, and is a popular destination for hikers and hunters. However, the BLM reversed an earlier recommendation to protect the ridge as a Wilderness Study Area and instead leased the vast majority of land for oil and gas drilling.

In August 2007, the Federal District Court in Colorado ruled that the BLM violated the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act when it granted the leases, and ordered the BLM to consider the effect of drilling and development on rare species in the area.

Bonneville Cutthroat Trout Listing

In 2002, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service denied to extend protection of the Bonneville cutthroat trout under the  Endangered Species Act, despite the fact that the species has been eliminated from 90 percent of its range, due to habitat degradation, predation, and hybridization from non-native trout.

Earthjustice filed suit on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, and the Pacific Rivers Council, and in October, 2007, the FWS announced that it has reversed its earlier decision and will consider placing the Bonneville cutthroat trout on the Endangered Species List.

Hatchery Listing Policy

The U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) adopted a policy that would require fisheries scientists to count hatchery-bred salmon along with the population of wild salmon when making endangered species assessments.

Earthjustice sued on behalf of several conservation groups and groups of fishing enthusiasts, and on June 13, 2007, a federal court agreed that the policy was scientifically flawed and inconsistent with the Endangered Species Act.

Marbled Murrelet Delisting Intervention

Timber industry attorneys tried to force the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to remove the threatened marbeled murrelet from the Endangered Species Act. Earthjustice represented several conservation groups requesting "intevenor" status in the lawsuit.

On February 2008, a federal district court rejected the timber industry's suit. In a related matter a few weeks later, the FWS announced that it would not finalize a proposal that would have slashed murrelet habitat by almost 95 percent.

In July 2008, a federal judge in Washington, DC, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals both ruled in favor of retaining federal Endangered Species Act protections for the marbled murrelet.

Northern Spotted Owl Critical Habitat

The Fish and Wildlife Service approved several timber sales in areas nominally protected as critical habitat for the northern spotted owl. Earthjustice sued to stop the sales. In February 2007, the Ninth Circuit Court of appeals ruled that the FWS violated the Endangered Species Act when it approved the sales.

Inyo County RS 2477 Quiet Title Act Intervention Earthjustice intervened in a case to defend designated national park wilderness in Death Valley from being opened to highway construction and vehicle use.
Bluefin Tuna Bycatch in the Gulf of Mexico The population of the western Atlantic bluefin tuna has been steadily declining in the past 20 years. In fact, the most recent assessment published by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna shows both that the population is at its lowest level ever, and that fishing pressure is at its highest point ever. A recent scientific study showed that bluefin tuna spawn in the Gulf of Mexico during the months of January through June, and that they were being killed as bycatch by the longliners targeting yellowfin tuna. Several conservation groups filed a petition in June of 2005 asking the National Marine Fisheries Service to close the bluefin spawning grounds in the Gulf of Mexico to all longline boats during spawning season. The agency refused to close the spawning grounds. Earthjustice is challenging the decision, since the agency ignored important scientific data when formulating its rule.
San Diego Vernal Pools The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a permit to the city of San Diego that would allow the destruction of seven species dependent on vernal pools. On October 13, 2006, a federal district court invalidated the permit.
Washington State Municipal Water Law

In 2003, the Washington State legislature passed the Municipal Water Law, which promotes irresponsible development at the expense of junior water rights holders and stream flows for fish. The law redefined "municipal water supplier" to include any private developer with connections for 15 or more homes and allows these developers to benefit from expanded rights granted retroactively to municipalities. It carried out these changes without the state Department of Ecology's usual review of the impacts of the expansion of a water right. The law therefore violated the due process rights of water-rights holders. It also violated the separation of powers by retroactively overruling a decision of the Washington Supreme Court.

In June 2008, a judge ruled that the state legislature overreached by redefining developers as "municipal water suppliers."

Juneau Access This suit challenged the approval of a highway project that would have extended the road north of Juneau, Alaska, through an inventoried roadless area in the Tongass National Forest to a new ferry terminal. The road threatened key wildlife areas, including bald eagle and Steller sea lion habitat, as well as important recreation, subsistence, and cultural resources.
County Line Timber Sale

Forest Guardians and several nearby landowners are challenging a back-country timber sale adjacent to a wilderness area in southwestern Colorado that would ruin an area prized by hunters, fishermen, hikers, and mountain bikers.