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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:

EPA's Global Warming Endangerment Finding Challenged Earthjustice is representing Environmental Defense Fund as an intervener against industry court challenges to the U.S. EPA’s scientific finding that global warming pollution endangers public health in America.
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.

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.

 

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.

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.

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.
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.

National Smog Standards Earthjustice is fighting for stronger limits on ozone or smog -- pollution linked to premature deaths, thousands of emergency room visits, and tens of thousands of asthma attacks each year. Ozone is especialy dangerous to small children and senior citizens, who are often warned to stay indoors on polluted days. Smog pollution can also severely damage forests and plants, stunting their growth and increasing the risk of die-off from disease. Unfortunately, smog standards recently adopted by the U.S. EPA are far weaker than recommended unanimously by the agency's own science advisors, leaving public health and the environment at great risk. Earthjustice is challenging these standards on behalf of public health and conservation groups.
Oil Refineries and Hazardous Waste

As a favor to U.S. oil refineries, EPA has exempted hundreds of thousands of tons of hazardous wastes produced at refineries (over 300,000 tons annually) from stringent federal regulation. With a sweep of the pen, these wastes are no longer considered "hazardous" if converted into gas and burned at the refineries. The waste, however, is known to be toxic, carcinogenic and prone to combust spontaneously and thus poses grave hazards to our air, water, and the communities in which it is stored, transported and burned.

Earthjustice has filed suit to strike down this exemption.

Public Liability for Mining Waste Clean-Up

According to Superfund legislation passed in 1980, the EPA should have developed regulations that required mining companies and other high-risk polluting industires to provide financial proof that in case of toxic spills and other environmental contamination, these companies would be able to clean up the resultant contamination. The EPA has yet to issue these regulations, and some mining companies have declared bankruptcy instead of paying to clean up their sites, leaving the taxpayers with the bill. Without the financial incentive to prevent pollution, these companies have little incentive to improve their waste management.

In February 2009, a United States District Court ruled that the EPA must produce these long overdue regulations for mining companies by May 4, 2009, therefore limiting the public's liability for the damage caused to the environment by poor practices by these companies.

Herring Trawlers: Threat to New England Fisheries

The population of groundfish off the coast of New England has been depleted for years. In 1994 nearly all fishing was banned from waters identified as spawning grounds and sanctuaries for cod, haddock, and other groundfish in order to give groundfish a chance to rebound from overfishing.

Herring mid-water trawlers were initially banned from the groundfish-closed areas in 1994. But in 1998 federal regulators decided to re-open these areas to trawlers, based on an assumption that the herring ships would catch little or no groundfish in their nets. As a result of this loophole in the regulations, it's estimated that these vessels have caught hundreds of thousands of pounds of mature and juvenile groundfish as bycatch.

Earthjustice has filed suit on behalf of local fishing groups to force federal regulators to close this loophole.

Smog & Soot: National Standards Review & Revision This 2003 lawsuit set the stage for limits on smog pollution from power plants and other sources. We negotiated deadlines with the Environmental Protection Agency to propose standards for ozone, a precursor to smog, by June 20, 2007. The EPA's weak protections mean more pollution for our cities and neighborhoods.
Cement Kiln Emissions Challenge This lawsuit challenges the EPA's continued refusal to set mercury emissions standards for cement kilns, in violation of the Clean Air Act. The EPA estimates that more than 100 cement kilns emit over 23,000 pounds of mercury each year.
Challenge to National Clean Air Standards for Airborne Particulates

On October 17, 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency refused to strengthen the annual primary particulate matter standard, despite the nearly unanimous recommendation from its own Clean Air Science Advisory Committee that the standard be strengthened. In addition, EPA refused to adopt a more protective secondary standard to protect visibility, and revoked another annual standard for clean air. Earthjustice challenged this action, and in February 2009, a federal court ruled that these Bush-era clean air standards were deficient, and sent them back to EPA for corrective action.

Bluefin Tuna Bycatch in the Gulf of Mexico The population of the western Atlantic bluefin tuna has been steadily declining in the past 20 years. In fact, the most recent assessment published by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna shows both that the population is at its lowest level ever, and that fishing pressure is at its highest point ever. A recent scientific study showed that bluefin tuna spawn in the Gulf of Mexico during the months of January through June, and that they were being killed as bycatch by the longliners targeting yellowfin tuna. Several conservation groups filed a petition in June of 2005 asking the National Marine Fisheries Service to close the bluefin spawning grounds in the Gulf of Mexico to all longline boats during spawning season. The agency refused to close the spawning grounds. Earthjustice is challenging the decision, since the agency ignored important scientific data when formulating its rule.