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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:

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.

Rock Creek Mine: Threat to Wildlife

The proposed Rock Creek Mine project in northwest Montana would be located adjacent to and literally under the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness Area in the Kootenai National Forest. The copper and silver mine's location is in a sensitive portion of grizzly bear habitat, and construction will add sediment to local waters, which would smother bull trout spawning areas.

Since 2001, the Fish & Wildlife Service has issued flawed biological opinions repeatedly, and Earthjustice has repeatedly -- and successfully -- challenged the approval for the mine.

In December 2007, the Fish & Wildlife Service once again gave the mining company approval to begin construction activities, based on a biological opinion that relies on mitigation measures that are not sufficient to protect the populations of grizzly bear. This biological opinion also permits extensive degradation of a portion of Rock Creek previously deemed critical habitat for bull trout.

To allow mining and other mineral development under federally designated wilderness would set a dangerous precedent. Earthjustice is challenging this renewed approval for the mine.

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.

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.

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. 


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. 

Improving Energy Efficiency Standards for Electric Transformers

We've all seen them -- those gray boxes mounted on telephone poles. Those boxes are electricity distribution transformers, and they serve to reduce the power of electric current from the high voltage used in transmission lines to the lower voltages we use in our homes, offices, and businesses.

Some transformers lose a lot more electricity than others, and all those inefficient transformers add up to a huge amount of wasted energy. According to the Department of Energy, if our utility companies started installing only the most efficient transformers available on the market today, the energy we save would avoid the need to construct 20 large-scale power plants by the year 2038.

However, instead of requiring these more efficient models, the DOE selected weak standards for electricity distribution transformers, ignoring the environmental benefits of going to stronger standards.

Earthjustice challenged the adoption of these standards, and in August 2009, the DOE settled the case, agreeing to review existing efficiency standards and propose changes to maximize future savings three year earlier than otherwise required.

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.

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.
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.

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.

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.