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:
|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 (â€œMISâ€) 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 78-85Â°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.
|Endosulfan: A Pesticide with Too Many Risks||
Endosulfan is a dangerous organochlorine insecticide that poison children, farmworkers, bystanders, fish, birds, and wildlife. Many organochlorine pesticides, including DDT, were banned in the 1970s. Used in the United States on tomatoes, cotton, and other crops, endosulfan can cause reproductive and developmental damage in both humans and wildlife; recently, a study found that children exposed to endosulfan in the first trimester had a significantly greater risk for developing autism spectrum disorder. In addition, endosulfan is extremely persistent, mobile, bioaccumulative, and has been found in National Parks, the Arctic, and in marine mammals. Endosulfan is banned entirely in the European Union and many other countries, including Cambodia, Pakistan, and the Philippines. Endosulfan has been proposed for a global ban under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. In early 2008, more than 13,000 people signed a petition asking EPA to ban endosulfan in the United States.
EPA approved continued use of endosulfan despite its horrific risks and minor benefits, in violation of federal pesticide law. EPA also failed to initiate or complete consultation on the impacts of endosulfan to threatened and endangered species.
Earthjustice has filed suit to force EPA to consider the impacts this pesticide has on people and wildilfe, and to prevent its application around schools, homes, playgrounds, and other areas while EPA complies with the law.
|Roadless Rule Defense: Affirmed At Court of Appeals, Enjoined in Another Circuit||The Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which protects 58.5 million acres of national forest land, was repealed by the Bush adminstration and replaced by a state-by-state petition process. In September 2006, Judge Elizabeth Laporte in San Francisco declared the petitions rule illegal and reinstated the Roadless Rule nationwide, except for the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. Two years later, Judge Brimmer reissued his moratorium declaring the Roadless Rule illegal throughout the country. But the following year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed protection for over 40 million acres of wild national forests and grasslands from new road building, logging, and development. On October 21, 2011, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Wyoming district court, upholding the Roadless Rule and vacating the prior injunction.|
|Diazinon: Threat to Public Health||
Diazinon is a dangerous organophosphate pesticide that poisons farmworkers, children, bystanders, fish, birds, and wildlife. EPA found health risks for diazinon, yet approved its continued use without requiring mitigation to reduce those risks and without ensuring that there are no unreasonable adverse effects, as required by federal pesticide law. This is especially true for impacts to children and agricultural communities from drift and run-off. EPA also failed to initiate or complete consultation on the impacts of diazinon to threatened and endangered species.
Earthjustice has filed suit to compel EPA to follow the law and reassess the threats this pesticide poses to the public and the environment.
|Halting Phosphate Strip Mining in Pristine Wetlands of Central Florida||Phosphate strip mining has devastated the Upper Peace River Valley in Central Florida. Over a hundred thousand acres of wetlands and hundreds of miles of streams have been destroyed by mining activities. Now, Mosaic Phosphate Company, which owns over 300,000 acres of land that it hopes to mine, is attempting to expand into previously unmined areas farther down the Peace River Valley. One of these mines is the 2367-acre Altman Tract which is located in the headwaters of one of the major tributaries of the Peace River.|
|Setting Sewage, Fertilizer, and Animal Waste Limits||The Clean Water Act puts pollution limits on lakes and streams to protect their uses for drinking water, recreation, and fish and wildlife habitat. Earthjustice has sought to force the Environmental Protection Agency to create effective water quality standards.|