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:
|Air Pollution Haze in Our National Parks||
The 1977 Clean Air Act set a national goal of cleaning up dirty air in major national parks and wilderness areas. Decades later, only a small handful of states have submitted legally required plans to comply. The result: power plant and factory emissions continue to obscure views of beloved landmarks in national parks across the country including Shenandoah, Great Smoky Mountains, Glacier, Big Bend, Acadia, Sequoia, and Yosemite.
On October 21, 2008, Earthjustice filed suit on behalf of Environmental Defense Fund and National Parks Conservation Association over the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's failure to enforce deadlines for the states to adopt these clean air plans. The Clean Air Act required states to submit enforceable plans to EPA by last December to clean up hazy skies in parks and wilderness areas. As of June 2008, only six had submitted plans, according to EPA sources. The Earthjustice letter gave notice of intent to sue EPA unless the agency enforces the deadline against delinquent states within 60 days.
According to the National Park Service, human-caused air pollution reduces visibility in most national parks throughout the country. Average visual range -- the farthest a person can see on a given day -- in most of the western United States is now about one-half to two-thirds of what it would be without man-made air pollution (about 140 miles). In most of the east, the average visual range is about one-fifth of what it would be under natural conditions (about 90 miles).
Earthjustice is suing EPA on behalf of conservation groups.
|Protecting Grand Canyon-Parashant and Vermilion Cliffs National Monuments from Off-Road Vehicles||
President Clinton created the Grand Canyon-Parashant and Vermilion Cliffs National Monuments in 2000 to protect their spectacular landscapes, unparalleled geological formations, artifacts from more than 10,000 years of human history, wildlife, and the solitude and remoteness essential to the character of these lands. To protect these valuable resources just north of the Grand Canyon, the Presidential Proclamations specifically prohibited the use of motorized vehicles off of any roads.
Instead of extending the National Monuments the especially protective management to which they are legally entitled, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) adopted resource management plans (RMPs) that treat the monuments as if they are indistinguishable from general multiple-use BLM lands. This is perhaps most evident in BLM's designation of a spider web of thousands of miles of trails and routes for motorized vehicles that BLM admits will damage the objects to be protected by the proclamations.
In addition to failing to comply with the Monument Proclamations, BLM also relied on a settlement agreement between the Department of the Interior and State of Utah to unlawfully disavow its statutory authority to fully consider the protection of wilderness-quality lands in the monuments. As a result, the solitude, remoteness, and wildlife habitat so important to these lands may be degraded or destroyed by motor vehicle use and other activities permitted by BLM.
Earthjustice represents a coalition of five environmental groups challenging the monuments' RMPs.
|Critical Habitat for the Palila||The palila -- a bird endemic to Hawai'i -- depends on the native Hawaiian dry land forest, particularly mamane trees, for food, shelter, and breeding, and the destruction of mamane forests by sheep and goats and other browsing animals in the early twentieth century prompted a sharp decline in palila numbers and habitat. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reacted by recognizing palila as endangered in 1967 and designating Palila critical habitat on the upper slopes of Mauna Kea.|
|Orion North Timber Sale||
The Orion North timber sale would have clearcut the heart of the last major roadless watershed in Thorne Arm, on Revillagigedo Island near Ketchikan in the Tongass National Forest. The watershed provides important old-growth habitat connecting Misty Fjords National Monument with the valuable coastal habitat along Thorne Arm.
|Gulf Longlines & Sea Turtles||
Earthjustice has filed suit to protect sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico. These turtles are a key part of the ecosystem in the Gulf, where they forage and live throughout the year. They also are a valuable legacy for Gulf residents who take pride in observing and enjoying the sea turtles' continued choice of their local beaches to nest. But they are being captured and killed in large numbers by fishing vessels that deploy miles of line and thousands of hooks along the ocean floor. The turtles drown or suffer serious injury when they grab the bait off these hooks.
Populations of these sea turtles are vulnerable; one turtle species in particular—the loggerhead—has suffered more than a 40% decline in its population over the past decade. Therefore, the Endangered Species Act requires the National Marine Fisheries Service to strictly limit the number of turtles that can be caught and harmed by these fishing vessels. But the Service has known for several years that these turtles are being caught by the hundreds, at levels that greatly exceed the allowed limit. The situation is so dire that in January 2009 the local fishery management council asked the Service to close the fishery altogether. Even though the scientific data are clear, and despite the fact that the Service has both the authority and duty to prevent further death and injury to sea turtles, the Service still has failed to act.
In its lawsuit, Earthjustice is asking the federal court in Florida to order the Service to close the fishery until the Service gathers the information needed to assess how best to protect the turtles and avoid further decimating their populations.
|Challenging Smoky Canyon Mine Expansion Permit||This case challenges a permit allowing expansion of the Smoky Canyon phosphate mine into roadless areas of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest in southeast Idaho. The mine is already listed as a federal Superfund site due to toxic pollution of area waters from past mining activity. Expanding the mine will likely create additional pollution in southeast Idaho springs and streams.|
|False Killer Whale Longline Defense||For years, the National Marine Fisheries Service has illegally ignored its own data, which show the Hawai'i-based longline fleet currently is injuring and killing false killer whales at over twice the level the population can sustain. In 2004, under pressure from an Earthjustice lawsuit, the National Marine Fisheries Service finally re-classified the Hawai'i-based longline fishery as "Category I" -- a designation for fisheries that annually kill and seriously harm marine mammals at unstainable rates -- due to its excessive incidental take of Hawai'i's false killer whales. Pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act, this recategorization should have triggered the prompt establishment of a take reduction team to devise a plan to bring the fishery's incidental take "to insignificant levels approaching a zero mortality and serious injury rate." NMFS has failed to do so, claiming inadequate funding. At the same time, NMFS has never applied the congressionally-mandated factors to allocate resources where insufficient funding is available for all required take reduction actions.|
|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.
|Marine Diesel Emissions||The EPA has failed to produce meaningful standards for controlling emissions from Category 3 marine diesel engines -- engines that power the largest oceangoing vessels such as tankers, freighters and cruise ships -- as required by the Clean Air Act. These marine engines burn residual fuel oil which contains sulfur, nitrogen, ash, and other substances that turn into sulfur oxide, nitrous oxide, and other pollutants and greenhouse gases when burned. Typical of shipping practices across the country, the ships steam into ports -- sometimes for days awaiting their turn to dock -- all the while running their engines to generate electricity to operate various ship systems (a practice called "hotelling"). People who live near ports are exposed to higher levels of diesel particulate matter and other pollutants, and suffer higher rates of asthma and cardiovascular disease.|
|Idaho Roadless Rule||
Late in the Bush administration, the U.S. Forest Service issued the Idaho Roadless Rule, a regulation establishing special rules to govern management of undeveloped roadless areas in Idaho's National Forests. Idaho has the most roadless public forest lands of any state in the lower-48 United States, with more than nine million acres. These pristine lands belong to all Americans. They provide outstanding opportunities for hunting, fishing and hiking, as well as essential habitat for rare wildlife species such as grizzly bears, gray wolves, caribou, and wolverines. However, while the 2001 Roadless Rule protected these lands, the Bush administration's Idaho Roadless Rule creates new loopholes that open the door for road construction and logging across 5.3 million acres of roadless areas -- an area more than twice the size of Yellowstone National Park -- and leaves more than 400,000 acres of roadless areas entirely unprotected.
Representing a coalition of national and regional conservation groups, Earthjustice challenged the Idaho Roadless Rule in federal district court in January 2009. This lawsuit takes aim at the rule's impacts on endangered and threatened species and its authorization for new development activities in previously protected roadless areas. Earthjustice will ask the court to invalidate the Idaho Roadless Rule and restore the 2001 Roadless Rule's protections for Idaho's irreplaceable wild forests.
|Stopping the Subsidization of Oil Shale Industrial Development in the West||
Earthjustice, on behalf of 13 conservation groups, filed two lawsuits in federal court in Colorado on January 16, 2009, challenging last-minute efforts by the Bush administration to subsidize oil shale industrial development across wildlands in Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah.
The first suit challenges the Bush administration's decision to give the green light to oil shale leasing across two million acres of public lands. The suit challenges the Bureau of Land Management's decision to cut the public out of the decisionmaking process by failure to permit the public to challenge the action in an administrative "protest" before finalizing the decision. Conservation groups also charge that the BLM failed to even consider protecting wildlands and habitat for the imperiled sage grouse while permitting some leasing to go ahead.
The second suit challenges the Bush administration's decision to issue new rules for managing oil shale. These rules provide huge subsidies to those hoping to start a domestic oil shale industry by cutting the rate US taxpayers will get from the sale of oil shale to less than 1/2 what it is for conventional oil and gas. The groups charge this violates the law's requirement that taxpayers get a fair return for the shale removed from America's public lands. The groups also challenge the agency's failure to divulge the environmental impact of subsidizing the industry.
|Western Oregon Plan Revision||Precipitated by litigation in the 1980s-1990s, the Northwest Forest Plan has governed federal public forests in Washington, Oregon, and northern California since its adoption in 1994, but its protections were under attack throughout the Bush administration. The last shoe to drop in the attempt to dismantle the Northwest Forest Plan was its wholesale revision with respect to 2.6 million acres of Bureau of Land Management ("BLM") lands in Oregon. The Western Oregon Plan Revisions, known by the acronym WOPR, will quadruple old-growth forest logging and eliminate or substantially shrink all wildlife reserves, including the streamside buffers and key watersheds that are integral parts of the Northwest Forest Plan's salmon and clean water protections. While WOPR covers Oregon, its impact is region-wide, as it marks the end of the ecosystem-wide strategy that has protected northwest rivers, salmon and steelhead, northern spotted owls, marbled murrelets, and other old-growth dependent species.|
|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.