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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:

Sunflower Coal Plant Permit

A permit for the construction of a massive, coal-fired power plant in western Kansas was issued by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. This proposed plant will emit massive amounts of greenhouse gases and air pollutants, including mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter. The plant will burn coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming, and use water from the declining Ogallala Aquifer (also known as the High Plains Aquifer). Earthjustice is contesting the permit.

Genetically Engineered Sugar Beets

The genetic engineering of our agricultural products has created serious environmental problems and numerous questions about health and safety. The great majority of genetically engineered ("GE") crops are engineered to be resistant to a specific weed killer, glyphosate (known commercially as "Roundup," owned and marketed by Monsanto). These crops, known as "Roundup Ready," allow farmers to apply large quantities of glyphosate to their fields without harming the crop, but this practice accelerates the evolution of herbicide-resistant "superweeds." Farmers then apply greater and greater quantities of Roundup to try to kill these weeds, and when this fails, they use even more toxic herbicides. Also, the GE crops themselves can cross-pollinate or become mixed with other related crops nearby, contaminating their conventional or organic counterparts.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, through its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, approved for commercial production genetically modified sugar beets without assessing the environmental, health, and economic impacts of these Roundup Ready beets, to the dismay of organic farmers, conservationists, and food-safety experts.

Earthjustice sued the USDA on behalf of organic seed producers and conservationists to get the deregulation of genetically-modified beets reversed until a full environmental impact statement is performed. In September 2009, the court agreed the USDA had violated the law and must prepare an EIS. Earthjustice is now seeking an injunction to stop further production of the sugar beets in the meantime.

Cement Kiln Emissions Challenge This lawsuit challenges the EPA's continued refusal to set mercury emissions standards for cement kilns, in violation of the Clean Air Act. The EPA estimates that more than 100 cement kilns emit over 23,000 pounds of mercury each year.
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.
Challenge to National Clean Air Standards for Airborne Particulates

On October 17, 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency refused to strengthen the annual primary particulate matter standard, despite the nearly unanimous recommendation from its own Clean Air Science Advisory Committee that the standard be strengthened. In addition, EPA refused to adopt a more protective secondary standard to protect visibility, and revoked another annual standard for clean air. Earthjustice challenged this action, and in February 2009, a federal court ruled that these Bush-era clean air standards were deficient, and sent them back to EPA for corrective action.

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.
Boilers: New Source Performance Standards

Earthjustice is challenging the EPA's new source performance standards (NSPS) for steam generating units at coal-fired power plants and other industrial, commercial, and institutional facilities.  

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.

Startup, Shutdown, and Malfunction (SSM) Reconsideration

Toxic air pollution from refineries, chemical plants, incinerators and other large industrial plants can increase to as much as ten times allowable levels during startup, shutdown, and malfunction events. Nonetheless, EPA's regulations exempted plants from toxic emission limits during these periods. Moreover, though EPA requires plant operators to prepare a plan for minimizing emissions during these highly polluting periods, EPA did not require plants to comply with their plan and allowed the plan to be kept secret from the public.

In December of 2008, as a result of this lawsuit, this loophole was closed by a federal court. Industry groups appealed the decision, and in March 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the case, effectively ending litigation.

Teck Cominco/Lake Roosevelt

Teck Cominco Metals operates a smelter ten miles north of the US-Canada border. This smelter has contaminated Lake Roosevelt, in Washington State, and parts of the Upper Columbia River with toxic heavy metals. Earthjustice filed a "friend of the Court" brief in support of the Colville Tribe to enforce an order issued to Teck Cominco to study and assess the pollution.

Wyoming Elk Feedgrounds

The state of Wyoming operates 23 winter feedgrounds for elk, many of them on federal lands. These feedgrounds artificially concentrate elk populations, which fuels the spread of diseases such as brucellosis and creates the prospect of a major chronic wasting disease epidemic. Conservationists sued to compel long overdue environmental analysis of alternatives to elk-feeding in Wyoming.

In July 2009 the 10th Circuit Court of Appeal ruled that the four elk feed grounds on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management are exempt from a new environmental impacts analysis, due to an old memorandum of understanding agreed to by the BLM and the state of Wyoming. However, as a result of this lawsuit, the U.S. Forest Service prepared an environmental impact statement examining the impacts of feed grounds within the Bridger-Teton National Forest.