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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:

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.
Strengthening Protections for Our Nation's Forests

In 2007, Earthjustice won its challenge to the Bush administration's 2005 revision of the National Forest Management Act planning regulations, which govern management of the 193-million-acre National Forest System. In response to our win, the Forest Service issued revised regulations. Unfortunately, the revised regulations are virtually the same as the regulations that the court invalidated, and the process by which they were adopted suffers from the same legal infirmities as the 2005 revision. Once again the regulations run counter to the National Forest Management Act, which was passed in 1976 in reaction to rampant overharvesting of commercial timber from the national forests, especially through clearcutting. The Act was expressly intended to reduce the Forest Service's discretion in managing the national forests, placing limits on timber harvesting and promoting the protection of other resources, including wildlife and native plants, watersheds, and recreation, while the revised regulations eliminate precisely those limits and protections.

This suit will challenge the revised regulations.

Protecting California's Air: Removing Agricultural Exemptions

California state law used to exempt farms, dairies, and other agricultural operations from getting air permits for pollution from sources such as agricultural dust, diesel irrigation pumps, and livestock waste. This exemption made compliance with the federal Clean Air Act impossible. Earthjustice sued the EPA for allowing California permitting programs to include the exemption, and Earthjustice's victory led California legislators to strip the exemption from the law.

However, EPA staff recently discovered that it unwittingly approved a provision with the older exemption for agricultural sources back in 1972 as part of a larger state implementation law, and could not find any subsequent action to strip the provision. Unless the EPA or the state take affirmative action to remove the provision, it remains federally-enforceable law.

This suit seeks to compel the EPA to remove the provision.

Red Legged Frog: Critical Habitat

In the spring of 2006, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service bowed to industry and developer pressure by issuing a rule that greatly diminished the critical  habitat of the endangered California red legged frog. Critical habitat is defined to include those areas that are "essential to the conservation of the species."  Also, by law, critical habitat determinations must be made based upon the "best scientific and commercial data available."

Earthjustice discovered through Freedom of Information Act requests that political pressure by officials in the D.C. office, including former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior Julie MacDonald, rose to the level of improper influence compromising the scientific integrity of the final critical habitat rule. This pressure caused field office scientists to ignore important scientific documents, such as the frog's Recovery Plan, and to exclude from the final rule significant areas of habitat that the FWS had previously determined were "essential to the conservation" of the frog. The result is a final critical habitat rule that does not provide for the recovery of the frog, nor is it based on the best available science. 

In September 2008, the FWS published a proposed rule that would significantly increase the critical habitat for the red-legged frog, and Earthjustice settled the lawsuit. 

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.
Genetically Engineered Sugar Beets

The genetic engineering of our agricultural products has created serious environmental problems and numerous questions about health and safety. The great majority of genetically engineered ("GE") crops are engineered to be resistant to a specific weed killer, glyphosate (known commercially as "Roundup," owned and marketed by Monsanto). These crops, known as "Roundup Ready," allow farmers to apply large quantities of glyphosate to their fields without harming the crop, but this practice accelerates the evolution of herbicide-resistant "superweeds." Farmers then apply greater and greater quantities of Roundup to try to kill these weeds, and when this fails, they use even more toxic herbicides. Also, the GE crops themselves can cross-pollinate or become mixed with other related crops nearby, contaminating their conventional or organic counterparts.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, through its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, approved for commercial production genetically modified sugar beets without assessing the environmental, health, and economic impacts of these Roundup Ready beets, to the dismay of organic farmers, conservationists, and food-safety experts.

Earthjustice sued the USDA on behalf of organic seed producers and conservationists to get the deregulation of genetically-modified beets reversed until a full environmental impact statement is performed. In September 2009, the court agreed the USDA had violated the law and must prepare an EIS. Earthjustice is now seeking an injunction to stop further production of the sugar beets in the meantime.

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.

PM-10 Contingency Measures This deadline suit seeks to compel EPA to act on the contingency measures in the San Joaquin Valley Air District's PM-10 plan. Contingency measures are required under the federal Clean Air Act as a backstop to protect public health should the Valley fail to meet major milestones in cleaning up particulate matter pollution. The EPA has yet to approve a set of contingency measures for the Valley and the plan is long overdue.
NFMA Rule Challenge

A 1976 law requires the Forest Service to protect wildlife on the national forests and allow citizens to participate in management decisions. The Bush administration has moved to reduce protections and all but cut citizens out of the process. Earthustice filed suit to challenge the new rules. In March 2007, a federal judge invalidated the administration's new regulations.

Sacramento-San Joaquin River Salmon Biological Opinion This lawsuit challenges NMFS' politically motivated "no jeopardy" biological opinion on the effects on five ESA-listed salmon and steelhead species of the proposed long-term operations, criteria and plan for the jointly operated federal Central Valley Project and State Water Project -- a plan that would pave the way for dramatically increased exports of water from the Bay Delta.
Delta Smelt Biological Opinion

The tiny smelt that lives in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta has been declining for years. Studies clearly indicate that increasing diversions of water would harm the fish, but the administration decided to proceed anyway. Earthjustice and NRDC sued to block an offending biological opinion.

The court ruled in our favor in December 2007.

Giant Sequoia Monument Logging

Challenge to the Forest Service management plan for Giant Sequoia National Monument, a plan that allows extensive logging in previously protected old growth habitat within the Giant Sequoia National Monument. Earthjustice sued on behalf of six organizations to protect this national treasure and the species that depend on it.

On August 22, 2006, a federal judge ruled that the plan to allow commercial logging in Giant Sequoia National Monument was illegal.

Butte Creek FERC Consultation

In this case, Earthjustice sought to compel the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to initiate formal consultation with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) regarding the effects of the DeSabla-Centerville hydroelectric project on federally-listed spring-run Chinook salmon, including the illegal take of thousands of pre-spawning adults on Butte Creek in recent years. On December 12, 2006, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decided that FERC is not required by the existing license to consult with NMFS regarding the effects of the project on newly listed species.

California Spotted Owl The Fish and Wildlife Service declined to grant federal protection to the California spotted owl arguing that a management plan known as the Sierra Framework would do so -- then it gutted the framework. Earthjustice has filed suit to seek Endangered Species Act protection for the owl.
Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog: ESA Protection A couple of years ago conservationists sued to gain Endangered Species Act protection for the yellow-legged frog in the Sierra Nevada. The government stalled, then said the species was "warranted but precluded" from protection. The suit now seeks to overturn that decision.