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:
|TransAlta Coal Plant Permit||
In the fight against coal plants, most progress by the environmental community in recent years has been to stop new plants or large new expansions, in part because old plants often have the benefit of "grandfather" type provisions in the law. That has left many old, very dirty coal power plants chugging away, belching huge quantities of global warming pollutants and other air pollutants. Earthjustice and several client groups have decided to take a run at changing that.
A subsidiary of TransAlta Corporation, a Canadian company, owns an old, dirty coal power plant in Centralia, Washington. The plant has never had to control mercury (a potent neuro-toxin) or global warming pollutants. That makes it the largest source of these pollutants in the state -- 10% of Washington's total greenhouse gas emissions come from just this one coal plant. The TransAlta coal plant also emits huge quantities of nitrogen oxides (NOx) -- a pollutant that is causing haze pollution to dirty the air of what should be our most pristine areas: national parks and wilderness areas. The TransAlta plant degrades the air quality in Mt. Rainier, Olympic and North Cascades National Parks along with Goat Rocks and Mt. Adams wilderness areas, among others. The National Park Service estimates that the TransAlta plant cumulatively pollutes the air in more parks and wilderness areas than any other polluter in the entire United States. Yet, TransAlta continues to fight putting adequate controls on its NOx pollution saying it just doesn't want to spend the money.
We disagree with TransAlta's balance sheet mentality. We think clean air, public health, and doing something now about the dangers of global warming is priceless and necessary for our kids and grandkids. Therefore, Earthjustice, on behalf of the Sierra Club, the National Parks Conservation Association, and the Northwest Environmental Defense Center, has filed suit challenging renewal of TransAlta's air permit for its complete failure to control mercury and global warming pollutants from the plant and for its failure to put the best controls available on NOx pollution that is harming parks and wilderness areas.
|Makua Environmental Impact Statement||In October 2001, Earthjustice reached a settlement agreement with the U.S. Army that requires the Army to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) for its proposed resumption of live-fire training at Makua Military Reservation (MMR) on Oahu, a culturally and ecologically important area, with scores of Hawaiian cultural sites and nearly fifty endangered plants and animals threatened by training.|
|Hawai'i Clean Energy Planning Framework||
Earthjustice is representing the Hawai'i Solar Energy Association, the statewide solar industry association, in proceedings before the Hawai'i Public Utilities Commission regarding the state electric utilities' proposed framework for energy planning, which will direct state energy development and use for decades to come. Earthjustice is seeking to ensure that the final approved framework best serves the public interest in maximum growth and distribution of clean energy.
|Canada Lynx Critical Habitat Intervention||The Canada lynx is a secretive forest cat that needs big, wild landscapes to survive. In February 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acted to conserve this rare species by designating 39,000 square miles of forest land as critical habitat for the lynx pursuant to the Endangered Species Act. The critical habitat designation, which encompasses lands in Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Minnesota, and Maine, allows the Service to protect lynx from harmful activities within areas that are crucial for the species' survival and recovery.|
|Tar Sands and the "Alberta Clipper"||Tar sands development in Alberta Canada is creating an environmental catastrophe. Toxic tailings ponds can be seen from space and plans have been made to strip away forests and peat lands in an area the size of Florida. The process of extracting oil from tar sands is extremely resource-intensive; it requires large amounts of energy for heating, mining, and pumping and uses 2.5 to 4 times the amount of water required for conventional crude oil extraction. Greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands production are three times those of conventional crude oil. Tar-sand oil contains 11 times more sulfur and nickel, six times more nitrogen, and five times more lead than conventional oil. These toxins are released into US air and water when the crude oil is processed into fuels by refineries.|
|Horse Butte Bison Intervention||The Montana Stockgrowers Association and two other plaintiffs have filed a state court lawsuit seeking to order the capture, hazing, or slaughter of bison (also known as buffalo) by a Montana state agency in the Horse Butte area just outside the west boundary of Yellowstone National Park. Earthjustice has intervened in this case on behalf of conservation groups and local landowners to stop the stockgrowers from reinstating a bison slaughter.|
|Missouri Breaks National Monument||Instead of extending the National Monument the especially protective management to which it is legally entitled, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) adopted a resource management plan (RMP) that treats the Monument as if it is 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 whose protection motivated the Monument's creation. Earthjustice represents a coalition of four environmental groups challenging the Monument's RMP.|
|Defending America's First Carbon Cap-and-Trade Program||
The Northeastern states have succeeded in launching the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) to reduce carbon emissions from regional power plants using a cap-and-trade system. However, an industry lawsuit in New York threatens the entire program. Representing Environmental Advocates of New York, the Environmetal Defense Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Pace Climate and Energy Center, we have submitted amicus briefing to defend this program, and more fundamentally, the states' ability to take proactive measures to curb greenhouse gas emissions in advance of federal climate regulation.
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is the first U.S. effort to reduce carbon emissions using a cap and trade system. RGGI has pioneered a model for cost-effective climate action at the state level. The model is particularly important because it incorporates the "polluter pays" principle, demanding that polluters buy the allowances that entitle them to emit carbon dioxide to the atmosphere at auction, rather than getting these valuable allowances for free. Each RGGI state has begun implementing the system, and the first allowance auctions have been held successfully.
The RGGI experiment is being closely watched and copied at every level of government. RGGI has inspired other states to step into the void left by the Bush administration and begin designing flexible regional systems that will limit greenhouse gas emissions. The Western Climate Initiative, the Southwest Climate Change Initiative, and other regional efforts have looked to the RGGI example for both inspiration and technical guidance on the design of an auction-based approach to allocating emissions allowances. Similarly, proposed federal cap-and-trade legislation draws on lessons learned from the RGGI process. We will fight to ensure that the New York legal challenge does not set back these important efforts to stop global warming.
|Hatfield's Ferry & Coal Combustion Waste||Hatfield's Ferry is located along the Monongahela River that flows north from West Virginia into southwestern Pennsylvania. The Monongahela is heavily used for recreation (boating and sportfishing) and is the main drinking water source for over 90,000 people in the region south of Pittsburgh. It is also the location of one of Pennsylvania's dirtiest coal-fired power plants.|
|West-wide Energy Corridors||
In January 2009, on its way out the door, the Bush administration finalized a vast network of energy corridors that promote coal-fired and other fossil-fuel power plants. The West-wide energy corridors are approximately 6000 miles long and cover 3.2 million acres of federal land in eleven Western states. By designating corridors that service old dirty sources of energy while neglecting areas with potential for clean, renewable energy sources, the Bush administration curtailed the ability of the federal government to shift the country away from our dependence on fossil fuels.
The federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 required federal agencies to designate corridors for oil, gas, and hydrogen pipelines and electric transmission facilities on federal land. In designating these corridors, the Bush administration ignored input from states, local governments, and thousands of citizens that suggested alternative routes that would not only support renewable energy, but also avoid trampling through iconic western landscapes including Arches National Park and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The federal agencies responsible for designating these corridors also refused to engage in consultation under the Endangered Species Act to determine how these corridors would impact threatened and endangered species throughout the West.
On behalf of a coalition of conservation organizations and a western Colorado county, Earthjustice filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging these corridors. The lawsuit seeks to redirect new transmission lines so that they link clean energy areas to consumers, and revitalizing the West-wide energy corridors, which have the potential to be an essential component of the of the overall renewable energy plan for the West, integrating state and regional policies to tap into the West's vast potential for wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources while protecting the region's iconic wildlife and public lands.
|Stockwater Exemption||On June 30, 2009, Earthjustice's Seattle office filed suit in state court in Washington, on behalf of third and fourth generation farmers against a huge industrial cattle feedlot. The Five Corners Family Farmers are a group of dryland wheat farmers whose families have been living and farming in the area since the early 1900s. Franklin County, Washington is one of the driest counties in the state and the Family Farmers group uses conservative farming practices in order to produce wheat without irrigation. The new industrial feedlot, Easterday Ranches, Incorporated, will pump over a million gallons of groundwater total per day from an area otherwise closed to new groundwater withdrawals due to decreasing aquifer levels. The Family Farmers worry that their wells, the source of all their water for drinking and household uses, will be threatened by this huge new, unregulated, industrial use.|
|Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Rulemaking||
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is promulgating regulations to implement statutory changes enacted from the 2007 legislative session. These new regulations are expected to substantially change the state permitting process for oil and gas development in Colorado. For the first time, the regulations will systemically address public health, environmental and wildlife concerns.
Earthjustice has been asked to represent the conservation community in these proceedings, to make the case for regulations that are open and transparent and protective of the environment, and to counter an intense campaign by the oil and gas industry to weaken the proposed rules.
|Gray Wolves in the Northern Rockies||
Gray wolves have come perilously close to extinction in the Rocky Mountains. Only in the past decade has the wolf population rebounded from a population of less than 50 to more than 1,500 wolves today. Visitors come to Yellowstone every year to get the chance to see and hear wolves in the wild.
In September, 2008, the Bush administration moved to reinstate federal Endangered Species Act protections for wolves, by asking a federal court for permission to withdraw its March 2008 decision to drop protections for wolves in the northern Rockies. On March 6, 2009, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar affirmed the decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove gray wolves from the list of threatened and endangered species in the western Great Lakes and the northern Rocky Mountain states of Idaho and Montana and parts of Washington, Oregon and Utah.
Once again, Earthjustice has turned to the courts to protect the grey wolves of the northern Rockies from attempts to deprive wolves of necessary legal and habitat protections. On June 2, 2009, Earthjustice filed suit on behalf of conservation groups challenging the decision to delist the wolves. In August 2009, Earthjustice sought an emergency injunction to halt wolf hunts in Idaho and Montana.
|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.