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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:

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. 

Graham's Penstemon: Wildflower on the Brink

The Graham's penstemon is a beautiful wildflower that lives exclusively on oil shale in the Unita Basin of northeastern Utah and northwestern Colorado. The penstemon is uniquely adapted to live in this harsh, dry climate. Future development of oil and gas and oil shale threatens the very existence of this flower.

In 2006, the Fish & Wildlife Service proposed that the Graham's penstemon be inclused on the endangered species list. But in 2007, the FWS reversed its decision, despite scientific evidence that this wildflower is threatened.

Earthjustice is suing on behalf of conservationists.

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.
Protecting the Endangered Species Act from Last-Minute Rule Changes

In a last-ditch attempt to weaken the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service have enacted a rule that drastically reduces one of the core protections of the Act.

The Endangered Species Act requires all federal agencies to consult with expert federal wildlife agencies to ensure that their actions will not harm endangered species and, when necessary, to develop project alternatives that will mitigate any possible harm to endangered species. Consultation has been the Act's most effective and successful safeguard by, for example, keeping factory trawlers out of Steller sea lion rookeries, establishing minimum flows for salmon in the Klamath River, and reforming management of the Northwest forests to protect the northern spotted owl and other old-growth dependent species.

The new rule eliminates the consultation requirement in a wide range of circumstances and will reduce protections for imperiled species. The new rule was enacted on December 16, 2008, and is scheduled to take effect on January 15, 2009, in the final days of the Bush administration's term in office. Earthjustice has filed a lawsuit challenging the new rule in a federal district court in California. Earthjustice is asking the court to find the rule unlawful and set it aside to restore the critical protections endangered species need to survive.

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 Wolverines in the Lower-48

The wolverine, the largest terrestrial member of the weasel family, is among the rarest mammals in the lower-48 states and faces severe threats from habitat fragmentation and disturbance, trapping, and global warming. Nevertheless, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in March 2008 rejected a petition to protect the wolverine under the Endangered Species Act. In so doing, the FWS cited the presence of wolverines in Canada and Alaska as a justification for refusing to protect the last remaining wolverines in the lower-48 states. This approach by FWS represented a stark departure from past Endangered Species Act listings of such species as the grizzly bear, the wolf, and the bald eagle in the lower-48 states despite the persistence of these species in Canada and Alaska.

Earthjustice, representing nine conservation groups, sued FWS in September 2008 to ensure that the wolverine is protected in the lower-48 states as Congress intended.

Monitoring the Health of the Sierra Nevada

The 1982 National Forest Management Act regulations require the Forest Service to identify and monitor the populations of various management indicator species (“MIS”) in the national forests. These particular species serve as a bellwether for other species with the same special habitat needs or population characteristics, so monitoring MIS is a way of monitoring the health of forest wildlife and habitat more generally. 

On December 14, 2007, the Forest Service amended the forest plans for all ten national forests in the Sierra Nevada. The amendment reduces significantly the number of MIS that will be monitored, increasing the risk that logging and other destructive activities will be carried out that will harm wildlife and habitat in the Sierra.

This suit challenges this amendment to the Sierra Nevada forest plans. 

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. 

Protecting the Pikas

The American pika is a small mammal related to rabbits and hares that lives in alpine areas throughout western North America.  Pikas are extremely sensitive to high temperatures, and they will die under brief exposure to temperatures above 78-85°F.  Because pikas are so vulnerable to high temperatures, scientists regard them as early sentinels of global warming.  In fact, many pika populations have already disappeared because of global warming, including at least one group near Yosemite National Park. 

Unless significant action is taken to curtail global warming, the pika could become extinct in California by the end of this century. Because of this, the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the California Fish and Game Commission to list the American pika as threatened under the California Endangered Species Act. The Center also petitioned the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to list the pika as a threatened or endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The Fish and Game Commission denied the petition, claiming that the Center did not present enough evidence that global warming had contributed to the pika's decline, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service advised the Center that they do not intend to respond to the pika petition within 12 months as required by law. In February 2009, the USFWS agreed to assess whether the pika may warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act, but in February 2010, the USFWS denied ESA protections to the American pika.

In October 2009, Earthjustice filed a lawsuit against the California Fish and Game Commission.

Protecting Southern California's National Forests

This case challenged the Forest Service's legally flawed process for approving revisions to forest plans for four southern California national forests (Cleveland, Angeles, San Bernardino, and Los Padres) as violating the National Environmental Policy Act. Totaling approximately 3.5 million acres, the southern California forests extend from Big Sur in the north to the Mexican border, are an internationally recognized important region for biodiversity, and serve as immensely popular recreational destinations for millions of Californians. The revised plans were sharply skewed towards allowing more environmentally damaging activities on the forests, in particular recreation such as off-road vehicle use, while at the same time the plans failed to set aside and protect sensitive areas and species' habitat. The plans also opened up vast roadless areas to future development and activities that would prevent the areas from being designated wilderness in the future. 

In September 2009, a federal district judge ruled that the plan did not adequately protect those forests' wildest landscapes.

Earthjustice represented conservationists.