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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:

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.
New Source Review Equipment Replacement Loophole When power plants and other major facilities make emissions-increasing changes, the Clean Air Act requires them to protect air quality and apply up-to-date pollution controls. Earthjustice went to court to challenge an EPA rule that carves out a major loophole in this requirement. On April 2, 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the Clean Air Act does require older power plants to have current air pollution controls when they are upgraded.
Honolulu Irradiator Earthjustice has been fighting to ensure adequate environmental review by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of an application to build a Cobalt-60 irradiator to treat fruit and vegetables for fruit flies at a site located in a tsunami evacuation zone and near active runways at the Honolulu International Airport, residential neighborhoods and schools.
Biopharm Algae The State of Hawai'i's Board of Agriculture approved a permit to allow the importation of algae genetically engineered to produce drugs on the Kona coast of the Big Island. Earthjustice sued, and the Court has ordered that the Board's approval without a review of potential environmental impacts of the project was invalid.
Stream and Wetland Protection Rule Industry groups challenged a rule issued by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency, designed to protect rivers, streams, wetlands and other waters from destructive discharges of dredged material. Earthjustice intervened to oppose the industry challenge. In February 2008, the dismissed the appeal by the industry groups.
Streams & Wetlands Threatened by Industry Suit Oil industry groups have sued the Environmental Protection Agency in an attempt to greatly weaken regulations designed to prevent oil spills into United States waters. Earthjustice has intervened to oppose the industry challenge.
Streams and Wetlands: Nationwide Permits Industry groups have sued to further weaken nationwide permits that already allow excessive dredging and filling wetlands throughout the country. Earthjustice intervened to oppose the industry challenge. On September 29, 2006, a federal court dismissed the case.
Mountaintop Removal in West Virginia

Mountaintop removal is one of the most environmentally destructive activities in the country. The Army Corps of Engineers has issued permits for four mines that will dump millions of tons of rock and debris into nearby streams and valleys, burying them forever. The permits were issued without the required environmental studies and impact statements. On March 23, 2007, a federal judge agreed and rescinded the permits.

In February 2008, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the ruling by the judge. Earthjustice requested a rehearing by the full court, which denied the petition. Earthjustice has asked the Supreme Court to review the case.

Mexican Border Power Plants

Suit to force the US Department of Energy to conduct a thorough environmental assessment before authorizing operation of power plants owned by US corporations and constructed in Mexico to supply power to the US energy market.

As a result of this suit, the court ordered that the DOE conduct an environmental assessment before authorizing electricity transmission.

Kensington Mine Project

In issuing a permit for a gold mine, the Army Corps of Engineers considered the mine’s chemically processed, toxic mine waste to be “fill material” under the Clean Water Act, bypassing strict EPA limits for this type of pollution. As a result, millions of tons of mine waste will be dumped into a pristine sub-alpine lake in Southeast Alaska, killing all fish and aquatic life in the lake.

In March 2007, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal announced that the permit to allow the mine waste to be dumped in the lake was illegal and would be struck down. On October 29, 2007, the same court—in this case, all 27 active judges—refused to reconsider the decision made in March.

In a 6–3 decision on June 22, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal. The mine is now operating and dumping its waste in the lake, but Earthjustice and others are working to change agency rules to avoid this result in the future.

Air Toxics: Mercury & Power Plants

The EPA exempted power plants from Clean Air Act regulations, even though these power plants emit into the air tons of mercury and other toxins -- known threats to human health.

In February 2008, a federal appeals court ruled that the EPA did not have the authority to exempt the power plants.

Greenhouse Gases & Global Warming The Environmental Protection Agency has taken the position that it will not regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases as "pollutants" under the Clean Air Act. Earthjustice challenged that position in court, on behalf of Sierra Club. On April 2, 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court said that the Clean Air Act does give the EPA the authority to regulate these emissions from cars.