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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:

TMDL Challenge: Lake Okeechobee Tributaries

Apart from its ecological significance as the second largest lake in the United States, Lake Okeechobee is also the largest surface water drinking source in Florida and the headwaters to the Everglades. Today, as a consequence of constantly accumulating phosphorus and nitrogen pollution, Lake Okeechobee periodically develops extensive toxic algae blooms. This case follows a successful Florida law challenge to a nutrient limit proposed for the nine northern tributaries to Lake Okeechobee. In that case, the state agency proposed a nutrient limit for the tributaries far too high to maintain the federal and state standards for water quality. The evidence in that case indicated a much lower limit would be appropriate. In response to this decision, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed such a limit. Major agricultural polluters then put pressure on EPA to sharply increase the phosphorus limit, and the state developed an elaborate formula which produced a nutrient limit for the tributaries at a level 70 percent higher than the level initially proposed by EPA. In mid-summer 2008, EPA finalized its rule and adopted the higher concentration limit for phosphorus. An unreasonably high phosphorus limit for the main tributaries to the lake will serve as a vehicle to legalize the pollution rather than bring it under control.

Earthjustice is suing on behalf of conservationists to compel the EPA to set more protective pollution limits.

Anacostia River: Sediment Pollution Limits

The Anacostia River flows through Maryland and the District of Columbia. Even though it flows through our nation's capital, it is heavily polluted -- raw sewage, trash, and other contaminents flow into the river, especially after heavy rains. Erosion, runoff from grimy streets, and an antiquated sewer system contribute to the problem.

The Clean Water Act requires that each state and the District of Columbia must set water quality standards which would protect the public health or welfare and enhance the quality of water. The state or  the EPA must then set limits on the amount of pollutants that can enter a specific waterbody in any given day (total maximum daily loads, or TMDLs), and the EPA must approve TMDLs only if they are adequate to achieve the state's water quality standards. Because contaminated sediment is one of the major causes of water quality impairment in the Anacostia, the District and Maryland must set TMDLs to limit sediment pollution along with other pollutants classified as "suspended solids."

In response to a previous Earthjustice lawsuit, the District of Columbia and Maryland adopted a daily cap for suspended solids in the Anacostia, but these caps are far too high to make the river suitable for recreation or even aesthestic enjoyment. Earthjustice is challenging the EPA's adoption of these inadequate pollution caps. The Anacostia River deserves better.

Cleaning Product Chemical Reporting

Earthjustice is taking Proctor & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, and other household cleaner manufacturing giants to court for refusing to follow a New York state law requiring them to disclose the chemical ingredients in their products and the health risks they pose.
 
The first-of-its-kind case could have national implications. Independent studies into chemicals contained in cleaning products continue to find health effects ranging from nerve damage to hormone disruption. But ingredient disclosure requirements are virtually non-existent in the United States.
 
The exception is this long-forgotten New York state law which requires household cleaner companies selling their products in New York to file semi-annual reports with the state listing the chemicals contained in their products and describing any company research on these chemicals' health and environmental effects.
 
But in the three decades since the 1976 law was passed, companies failed to file a single report. In the fall of 2008, Earthjustice sent letters to more than a dozen companies asking them to comply with the law. The companies targeted in this lawsuit -- Proctor & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, Church and Dwight and Reckitt-Benckiser -- each ignored or refused this request.

Snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park

For eight years, the Bush administration has worked to reverse the National Park Service's 2001 decision to eliminate recreational snowmobiling -- and its adverse air, noise, and wildlife impacts -- from Yellowstone, the nation's first national park.  In 2003, Earthjustice attorneys succeeded in overturning in court the Bush administration's first Yellowstone snowmobile plan, under which 950 snowmobiles would have been allowed into the park each winter day.  In 2007, the Bush administration finalized a second plan authorizing 540 snowmobiles in Yellowstone each winter day -- twice the number of recent winter seasons, during which the Park Service's own noise and air quality thresholds were violated by snowmobiles. The Bush administration's plan to double the number of snowmobiles within Yellowstone contradicted the recommendation of Park Service's own biologists, who had concluded that lower vehicle numbers were necessary to protect the park's winter-stressed wildlife.

On September 15, 2008, a federal court in Washington, D.C., rejected the Bush administration's 540-snowmobile plan in a second Earthjustice lawsuit, reaffirming that "the fundamental purpose of the national park system is to conserve park resources and values." In the words of the court, the administration's decision to allow a doubling of snowmobile use within Yellowstone "clearly elevate[d] use over conservation of park resources and values" contrary to Park Service mandates. The court set aside the Bush administration's plan and directed the Park Service to develop a new regulation protective of Yellowstone National Park.

The Bush administration refused. Citing a November 2008 Wyoming court decision that left the Park Service with the authority to develop a new winter use plan, in December 2008 the Bush administration published a regulation that will allow 720 snowmobiles into the park each winter day -- 180 more than the plan invalidated only three months before by the Washington, D.C., court. Earthjustice has filed a lawsuit on behalf of five conservation groups challenging the Bush administration's eleventh-hour effort to perpetuate recreational snowmobiling within Yellowstone National Park. 

Stronger Standards to Reduce Mercury and Other Pollutants from Power Plants Power plants are, collectively, the worst toxic emitters in the country.  They emit more than 350,000 tons of toxic chemicals each year, including more than forty percent of all mercury emissions (approximately forty-eight tons per year), twenty percent of all arsenic emissions (approximately seventy tons per year) as well as more than eighty tons per year of both lead and chromium. In Earthjustice's previous power plants air toxics case, we successfully challenged EPA's decision to remove power plants from the list of industries for which air toxics standards are required -- a move that would have allowed the agency to delay and curtail reductions in power plants' mercury emissions and leave their emissions of arsenic, lead and other hazardous air pollutants wholly unregulated.
Keeping Lake Tahoe Blue

Situated between Nevada and California, near the crest of the Sierra Mountains, Lake Tahoe is one of the deepest and clearest lakes in the world, and only one of two EPA-designated "Outstanding National Resources Waters" in the western United States. Due to increasing human activities and urban development around the lake, however, its famed clarity, which once measured 100 feet deep, has declined 30% since 1968. Further, 75% of the region's environmental standards, including water quality and air quality standards, have not been achieved. The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency's new plan to allow the construction of 138 piers and the placement of several thousand buoys in Lake Tahoe's shorezone would only cause more harm to the Lake's fragile environment. These additional shorezone structures would impede the public's recreational access to the shorezone, degrade the lake's natural scenic beauty, and result in over 62,000 additional motorized boat trips on the lake per year, leading to more pollution of the lake's waters and further declines in lake clarity.

This lawsuit challenges TRPA's plan to dramatically increase shorezone development, in violation of the agency's mandate to protect and restore Lake Tahoe's natural beauty and health.

The agency also failed to perform adequate environmental studies of the new development, and relied on an unformulated and undefined "Blue Boating Program" to offset the increased pollution. Without further specifics, however, the Blue Boating Program cannot assure that the lake's clarity will not suffer further damage and that environmental standards will be met. This lawsuit seeks to stop additional shorezone development until TRPA can show that its plan will achieve the region's standards.

In September of 2009, a federal dirstic court judge issued an injunction  halting construction of new piers, boat ramps and other boat facilities, and placement of new buoys along the Lake Tahoe shoreline, pending resolution of the lawsuit.

Earthjustice is suing on behalf of conservationists.

Stronger Standards for PVC Plants

Each year, PVC (or polyvinyl chloride) plants are responsible for pumping approximately 500,000 pounds of vinyl chloride -- a known human carcinogen -- and many other toxic chemicals into the atmosphere. These plants have had incredibly damaging effects on communities throughout the country, especially in Louisiana. In Mossville, Louisiana, a historically African American community that is home to two PVC plants, health studies have found blood levels of dioxin among residents rivaling those seen in industrial accidents. Communities like Mossville that exist in the shadow of PVC plants suffer from high rates of cancer, asthma, and endometriosis. 

Although EPA issued emissions regulations for PVC plants in 2002, they provided emission standards for just vinyl chloride, leaving emissions of dioxins, chromium, lead, chlorine and hydrogen choride -- substances associated with a wide variety of serious adverse health effects including cancer -- entirely unchecked.  Further, the sole standard adopted, for vinyl chloride, was set at the same weak standard that has been in place since 1976, a level that allows PVC plants to continue emitting this toxin at levels that EPA itself expects to cause death and serious illness.

Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN) and the Sierra Club, represented by Earthjustice, successfully challenged those regulations in 2002, resulting in a 2004 decision by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals finding that EPA's lax approach to regulating pollution from PVC plants violated the law.  Four years later, the agency has failed to make any progress in replacing the vacated standard with a lawful one, leaving PVC plants underregulated.

In October 2008, Earthjustice again filed suit on behalf of MEAN, the Sierra Club, and Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN) to force EPA to comply with their obligations under the Clean Air Act and issue lawful standards for PVC plants. 

In Novermber of 2009, as part of a settlement reached with Earthjustice's clients, the EPA agreed to begin regulating the toxins released by PVC plants by July 29, 2011.

Protecting Global Climate and Community Health from Oil Refinery Impacts

This case challenges the City of Richmond's approval of a major project at the Chevron oil refinery. The project could allow the refinery to use dirtier forms of oil which could increase the release of highly-polluting mercury, selenium and sulfur flare gas. In addition, greenhouse gas emissions from the refinery could increase by nearly 900,000 tons per year. The project could also increase the risk of accidents at the refinery, which in the past have led to considerable acute health problems in the surrounding community. The city is responsible for making sure that the Environmental Impact Report for the project analyzes and mitigates all of its significant environmental impacts, and violated the California Environmental Quality Act by approving a flawed report. 

On July 2, 2009, a Contra Costa County Superior Court judge issued an injunction to stop work on the expansion until a new, legal Environmental Impact Report can be issued.

Earthjustice is suing on behalf of environmental justice and community groups. 

Endosulfan: A Pesticide with Too Many Risks

Endosulfan is a dangerous organochlorine insecticide that poison children, farmworkers, bystanders, fish, birds, and wildlife. Many organochlorine pesticides, including DDT, were banned in the 1970s. Used in the United States on tomatoes, cotton, and other crops, endosulfan can cause reproductive and developmental damage in both humans and wildlife; recently, a study found that children exposed to endosulfan in the first trimester had a significantly greater risk for developing autism spectrum disorder. In addition, endosulfan is extremely persistent, mobile, bioaccumulative, and has been found in National Parks, the Arctic, and in marine mammals. Endosulfan is banned entirely in the European Union and many other countries, including Cambodia, Pakistan, and the Philippines.  Endosulfan has been proposed for a global ban under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.  In early 2008, more than 13,000 people signed a petition asking EPA to ban endosulfan in the United States. 

EPA approved continued use of endosulfan despite its horrific risks and minor benefits, in violation of federal pesticide law. EPA also failed to initiate or complete consultation on the impacts of endosulfan to threatened and endangered species. 

Earthjustice has filed suit to force EPA to consider the impacts this pesticide has on people and wildilfe, and to prevent its application around schools, homes, playgrounds, and other areas while EPA complies with the law.

Diazinon: Threat to Public Health

Diazinon is a dangerous organophosphate pesticide that poisons farmworkers, children, bystanders, fish, birds, and wildlife. EPA found health risks for diazinon, yet approved its continued use without requiring mitigation to reduce those risks and without ensuring that there are no unreasonable adverse effects, as required by federal pesticide law. This is especially true for impacts to children and agricultural communities from drift and run-off. EPA also failed to initiate or complete consultation on the impacts of diazinon to threatened and endangered species. 

Earthjustice has filed suit to compel EPA to follow the law and reassess the threats this pesticide poses to the public and the environment.

Halting Phosphate Strip Mining in Pristine Wetlands of Central Florida Phosphate strip mining has devastated the Upper Peace River Valley in Central Florida. Over a hundred thousand acres of wetlands and hundreds of miles of streams have been destroyed by mining activities. Now, Mosaic Phosphate Company, which owns over 300,000 acres of land that it hopes to mine, is attempting to expand into previously unmined areas farther down the Peace River Valley.  One of these mines is the 2367-acre Altman Tract which is located in the headwaters of one of the major tributaries of the Peace River.
Setting Sewage, Fertilizer, and Animal Waste Limits The Clean Water Act puts pollution limits on lakes and streams to protect their uses for drinking water, recreation, and fish and wildlife habitat. Earthjustice has sought to force the Environmental Protection Agency to create effective water quality standards.
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.