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:
|Roan Plateau: Challenge to Oil & Gas Leasing Plan||
The Roan Plateau, just west of Rifle, Colorado, provides an island of near-unrivaled biodiversity in western Colorado. The Roan contains essential habitat for genetically pure populations of Colorado River cutthroat trout; supports Colorado's greatest herds of elk and mule deer; and hosts a number of rare and sensitive plants. BLM itself acknowledges that the Roan also contains at least 19,000 acres of wilderness-quality lands. The area is extremely popular with sportsmen for backcountry angling, hunting and other recreation.
The BLM, however, plans to lease the Roan for oil and gas development, and to allow drilling more than 3,600 wells on the Upper Plateau. BLM admits that the backcountry and wilderness values for which the Roan is known would be seriously compromised by such intensive development. BLM's leasing plan also disregards widespread opposition from the towns and counties in the area, as well as from Colorado's governor and congressional delegation -- all of whom sought to additional protections for the Roan.
Earthjustice represents a coalition of groups in challenging the BLM leasing plan.
|Brookfield Landfill: Cleaning Up a Toxic Dump||
Between 1974 and 1980, tens of thousands of gallons of toxic industrial waste were dumped illegally at the Brookfield landfill in Staten Island. It was one of five New York City landfills involved in a 1982 federal investigation into illegal dumping which sent a city Department of Sanitation official and a hauling operator to prison. While cleanup has concluded at the four other landfills involved in the 1982 investigation, work still has yet to begin on the Brookfield site in Staten Island.
Earthjustice is representing Staten Island residents in a lawsuit against the city of New York to force the cleanup of this abandoned toxic waste dump.
|Highwood Power Plant Challenge||
Earthjustice, on behalf of local conservation groups, challenged state and federal authorizations for the Highwood Generating Station, a 250-MW coal-fired power plant proposed by a small group of eastern Montana electricity cooperatives known as the Southern Montana Electric Generation and Transmission Cooperative. Earthjustice also challenged a $600 million federal subsidy of this power plant -- a power plant that would produce pollutants and greenhouse gases for decades to come.
This proposed plant would have been built on top of one of the last preserved campsites of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and the National Park Service has reported that its destruction would represent "an irreparable loss to the national heritage of our country."
In February, 2009, the backers of the plant announced that they are reversing course and will instead build natural gas and wind energy facilities, and in August, 2009, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality revoked the air quality permit for the plant.
|Coalbed Methane Gas & Coal Mining Development in Flathead River Basin||
The Flathead River flows from British Columbia south into Montana and forms the western boundary of Glacier National Park. Coalbed methane gas extraction and open-pit coal mining in the Canadian headwaters of the Flathead River threaten to fragment the Flathead's abundant habitat for grizzly bears, wolves, and wolverines, and to pollute the river's pristine waters.
Earthjustice submitted petitions to the appropriate international agencies to seek to protect this special river and its surrounding habitat, and in 2010, British Columbia, in partnership with the state of Montana, has agreed to ban mining, oil and gas development, and coalbed gas extraction in the valley.
|Protecting Healthy Elk & Bison in Wyoming||
Each winter, the federal government feeds approximately 8,000 elk and 900 bison, or buffalo, on the 24,700-acre Jackson Hole National Elk Refuge in northwest Wyoming. This winter feeding program began in 1910 after growing human development in the Jackson Hole region intruded on winter ranges for native wildlife, and has continued ever since. Now, however, it has become apparent that crowding of elk and bison on winter feed lines -- like crowding of children in a kindergarten class room -- exposes the animals to a high danger of disease transmission. Already the fed elk and bison are widely afflicted with brucellosis, a disease that causes female animals to abort their calves. Even worse, crowding on the refuge feed lines exposes the elk to a high risk of contracting chronic wasting disease, the elk equivalent of "mad cow" disease, which is always fatal and which has steadily been moving northwest in Wyoming toward the Jackson Hole area over the past several years.
Despite these wildlife disease threats, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided in 2007 to continue winter feeding of elk and bison for the foreseeable future, rather than to embark on a new plan that would seek to return these animals to their native winter range. In making this decision, the agency deferred to the wishes of local hunting outfitters, who want high elk numbers for their clients, and local ranchers, who wish to keep the elk away from forage that is now used to graze cattle. But the law governing the National Wildlife Refuge System requires the Service to maintain "healthy populations" of wildlife for the benefit of present and future generations of all Americans, not to maintain feedgrounds that perpetuate wildlife disease for the benefit of a few local interests. Earthjustice filed a lawsuit in June 2008 to enforce this law.
|EPA Water Transfer Rule||
In our Lake Okeechobee backpumping case, a federal district judge ruled in December 2006 that the South Florida Water Management District must comply with the Clean Water Act by obtaining permits for its discharges of polluted water into the lake.
In response to our court win, the EPA has issued an administrative rule that would grant an exception to the requirement for permits which would allow water transfers between heavily polluted waterways into pristine bodies of water, including drinking water supplies. This rule would not only effect Florida and Lake Okeechobee, but all waters nationwide. Water management districts throughout the nation could spread toxic algae blooms, introduce invasive species, chemicals, and other pollutants by these unregulated water transfers.
Earthjustice is challenging this rule.
|National Smog Standards||Earthjustice is fighting for stronger limits on ozone or smog -- pollution linked to premature deaths, thousands of emergency room visits, and tens of thousands of asthma attacks each year. Ozone is especialy dangerous to small children and senior citizens, who are often warned to stay indoors on polluted days. Smog pollution can also severely damage forests and plants, stunting their growth and increasing the risk of die-off from disease. Unfortunately, smog standards recently adopted by the U.S. EPA are far weaker than recommended unanimously by the agency's own science advisors, leaving public health and the environment at great risk. Earthjustice is challenging these standards on behalf of public health and conservation groups.|
|Strengthening Protections for Our Nation's Forests||
In 2007, Earthjustice won its challenge to the Bush administration's 2005 revision of the National Forest Management Act planning regulations, which govern management of the 193-million-acre National Forest System. In response to our win, the Forest Service issued revised regulations. Unfortunately, the revised regulations are virtually the same as the regulations that the court invalidated, and the process by which they were adopted suffers from the same legal infirmities as the 2005 revision. Once again the regulations run counter to the National Forest Management Act, which was passed in 1976 in reaction to rampant overharvesting of commercial timber from the national forests, especially through clearcutting. The Act was expressly intended to reduce the Forest Service's discretion in managing the national forests, placing limits on timber harvesting and promoting the protection of other resources, including wildlife and native plants, watersheds, and recreation, while the revised regulations eliminate precisely those limits and protections.
This suit will challenge the revised regulations.
|Oil Refineries and Hazardous Waste||
As a favor to U.S. oil refineries, EPA has exempted hundreds of thousands of tons of hazardous wastes produced at refineries (over 300,000 tons annually) from stringent federal regulation. With a sweep of the pen, these wastes are no longer considered "hazardous" if converted into gas and burned at the refineries. The waste, however, is known to be toxic, carcinogenic and prone to combust spontaneously and thus poses grave hazards to our air, water, and the communities in which it is stored, transported and burned.
Earthjustice has filed suit to strike down this exemption.
|Central Maui Stream Restoration||Earthjustice petitioned the state Commission on Water Resource Management to establish instream flow standards that would sustain beneficial instream uses, such as ecological protection, Native Hawaiian practices, recreation, and scenic values, for Na Wai Eha (The Four Great Waters) in Central Maui. The petition demanded that the water currently being hoarded and wasted by private companies be returned to the streams of origin.|
|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.