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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:

Kaua'i Seabirds Threatened by KIUC Powerlines & Structures

For decades, endangered Hawaiian petrels and threatened Newell's shearwaters have been killed and injured by flying into power lines and associated structures owned and operated by Kaua'i Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC). KIUC's own estimate is that it currently kills nearly 200 listed seabirds per year, without coverage under an incidental take permit in violation of the Endangered Species Act. The illegal operations of KIUC and its predecessor, Kaua'i Electric, have killed thousands of imperiled seabirds over the years and bear substantial responsibility for the crash in the Newell's shearwater population on Kaua'i, where the bulk of the species is found and where bird numbers have declined by 75% in only the past fifteen years.

Western Arctic Oil & Gas Drilling

Outside of the industrialized oil fields of Prudhoe Bay, vast areas of relatively untouched wildlife habitat remain in Alaska's Western Arctic. This region includes the 23-million acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, the largest unprotected block of land in the federal land system. The Reserve consists of varied ecosystems and habitats, from coastal lagoons to Arctic tundra and rugged mountains, supporting large populations of caribou, polar and grizzly bears, wolves, fish, and migratory birds. It is also home for Teshekpuk Lake, one of the most important and sensitive wetland complexes in the circumpolar Arctic.

Fueling the Fire: Shell's Oil Drilling in the Arctic Ocean Alaska's Arctic Ocean has been under constant pressure in recent years as a rapidly warming climate continues to melt the sea ice that for millennia has supported Arctic species—polar bear, Pacific walrus, seals and whales—and the associated Alaska native cultures in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.
Seminole Power Plant

Earthjustice is opposed to the construction of new coal plants because of the growing crisis of global warming and because they are the dirtiest way of generating electricity.  Coal fired power plants are an extremely polluting antiquated technology and the Seminole Electric plant would pollute the air a lot more than older coal power plants of similar size. The permit didn't meet the Clean Air Act requirements.

Gas Drilling Wastewater in the Monongahela River

There is a gas rush in Pennsylvania. The PA Department of Environmental Protection ("DEP") issued more than 1,300 permits for gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale this year, up from 97 in 2007. Extracting gas from the shale involves the use of toxic drilling muds and a stimulation process known as "hydraulic fracturing," whereby millions of gallons of water and toxic chemicals are pumped at high pressure into horizontal wells to break up low-permeability rock and release trapped gas. About half of the injected fluids are recovered, along with high levels of total dissolved solids ("TDS"), heavy metals, and normally occurring radioactive materials that leach out of underground formations. The wastes from drilling muds, hydraulic fracturing fluids, and brines that emerge during the production phase cannot be discharged safely into the waters of the Commonwealth without extensive treatment.

Badger-Two Medicine Travel Plan Intervention

The Badger-Two Medicine region represents 130,000 acres of National Forest land located in Montana's Rocky Mountain Front -- where the eastern slope of the Rockies meets the Great Plains -- and sandwiched between the south boundary of Glacier National Park and the Great Bear and Bob Marshall Wilderness Areas. Located amidst some of our nation's most impressive wildlands, the Badger-Two Medicine hosts numerous rare and sensitive wildlife species, including grizzly bears, wolves, lynx, wolverines, bighorn sheep, elk, and mountain goats. It also constitutes a land of special cultural importance to the Blackfeet Tribe, whose reservation it borders. The region is also almost entirely unroaded, presenting a de facto wilderness occupying a critical wildlife movement corridor along the eastern Rocky Mountain Front.

Utah Resource Management Plans and Lease Sale Challenge

In late 2008, the Bush administration attempted to cement its pro-development philosophy in the BLM's land management plans applicable to Utah's public lands for decades to come. These public lands include areas adjacent to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Dinosaur National Monument, and Ninemile and Desolation Canyons. The development authorized under these plans will have severe impacts on wildlife, rivers and streams, cultural resources, and air quality in some of Utah's most spectacular places.

On behalf of several conservation groups, Earthjustice filed suit in December 2008. In January 2009, Earthjustice obtained a temporary restraining order prohibiting BLM from finalizing the Utah leases until after the change in administrations in Washington. Once Obama took office, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced that BLM would not finalize the leases, but would conduct additional environmental analysis.

In October 2009, Salazar announced that eight of 77 oil and gas lease parcels sold during a December auction in the waning hours of the Bush administration will be off-limits to drilling. Earthjustice continues to challenge plans to open an additional 2 millions acres of Utah public lands to oil and gas development.

 

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.