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:
|Public Liability for Mining Waste Clean-Up||
According to Superfund legislation passed in 1980, the EPA should have developed regulations that required mining companies and other high-risk polluting industires to provide financial proof that in case of toxic spills and other environmental contamination, these companies would be able to clean up the resultant contamination. The EPA has yet to issue these regulations, and some mining companies have declared bankruptcy instead of paying to clean up their sites, leaving the taxpayers with the bill. Without the financial incentive to prevent pollution, these companies have little incentive to improve their waste management.
In February 2009, a United States District Court ruled that the EPA must produce these long overdue regulations for mining companies by May 4, 2009, therefore limiting the public's liability for the damage caused to the environment by poor practices by these companies.
|New York Brownfields||
Thousands of contaminated and abandoned gas stations, factories, other industiral and commercial sites are poisoning the air, land, and water for communities across New York. The state adopted regulations that fall far short of the landmark law passed in 2003 to clean up many of these brownfields.
In February 2008, the court ruled that contaminated sites must be cleaned up to the statutory cleanup objectives, not simply to the contaminated background levels at the site.
|Protecting California's Air: Removing Agricultural Exemptions||
California state law used to exempt farms, dairies, and other agricultural operations from getting air permits for pollution from sources such as agricultural dust, diesel irrigation pumps, and livestock waste. This exemption made compliance with the federal Clean Air Act impossible. Earthjustice sued the EPA for allowing California permitting programs to include the exemption, and Earthjustice's victory led California legislators to strip the exemption from the law.
However, EPA staff recently discovered that it unwittingly approved a provision with the older exemption for agricultural sources back in 1972 as part of a larger state implementation law, and could not find any subsequent action to strip the provision. Unless the EPA or the state take affirmative action to remove the provision, it remains federally-enforceable law.
This suit seeks to compel the EPA to remove the provision.
|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.
|Smog & Soot: National Standards Review & Revision||This 2003 lawsuit set the stage for limits on smog pollution from power plants and other sources. We negotiated deadlines with the Environmental Protection Agency to propose standards for ozone, a precursor to smog, by June 20, 2007. The EPA's weak protections mean more pollution for our cities and neighborhoods.|
|Glades Power Plant||
Florida Power & Light has proposed building a massive coal-fired power plant on the northwest shore of Lake Okeechobee, at the edge of the Florida Everglades. Coal-fired power plants are among the nation's largest sources of air pollution, and spew greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide which can accelerate global warming. As a result of these and other polluting emissions, including mercury, the proposed Glades plant would also further degrade the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee, and local estuaries.
Earthjustice challenged the permits on behalf of several conservation groups. On June 5, 2007, the Florida Public Service Commission voted unanimously to reject the proposal.
|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.|
|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.
|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.
|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."
|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.
|Pesticide Testing on Humans||
The EPA issued a rule on pesticide testing on humans that favors the chemical industry and does not meet the scientific and ethical standards recommended by the National Academy of Sciences and outlined by the Nuremberg Code after World War II.
In June 2010, the EPA settled this lawsuit and agreed to propose a new rule that would significantly strengthen scientific and ethical protections for tests of pesticides on humans. Under this agreement, a proposed rule must be issued for public comment by January 2011. The settlement still requires court action to become effective.
|PM-10 Contingency Measures||This deadline suit seeks to compel EPA to act on the contingency measures in the San Joaquin Valley Air District's PM-10 plan. Contingency measures are required under the federal Clean Air Act as a backstop to protect public health should the Valley fail to meet major milestones in cleaning up particulate matter pollution. The EPA has yet to approve a set of contingency measures for the Valley and the plan is long overdue.|